Czechmate: Canadian men's basketball team misses out on Olympic qualification

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Trey Lyles, centre, can't hold on to the ball as Ondrej Balvin of the Czech Republic defends during Canada's 103-101 overtime loss at a last-gasp Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria on Saturday. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Trey Lyles, centre, can't hold on to the ball as Ondrej Balvin of the Czech Republic defends during Canada's 103-101 overtime loss at a last-gasp Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria on Saturday. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press - image credit)

This Canadian basketball loss is going to sting for a long time.

After mounting an improbable and chaotic comeback, storming back from nine points down with 44 seconds left in the game to force overtime, the Canadian men's basketball team ran out of steam in the extra frame and lost the semifinal of the men's Olympic basketball qualifier to the Czech Republic, 103-101.

Game over. Olympic dream over — an Olympic drought that will now extend for another cycle. The men's basketball team hasn't qualified since 2000.

The Czechs' Tomas Satoransky made a difficult bank shot with just 1.8 seconds left in the game to give the Czech Republic a two-point lead.

Canada drew up a brilliant inbounds play during the timeout, executed it perfectly, only to have Trey Lyles' shot go in and then out.

"It was an amazing game if you're a fan. For us it was a little bit of a bad dream the way we finished that game," Satoransky said.

"I'm so proud of my team that we found strength. We made some big-time plays. I'm so proud of this group."

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The Czechs now await Greece, who defeated Turkey in the other semifinal. The championship game goes Sunday at 7 p.m. ET.

Only the winner gets the ticket to the Tokyo Olympics.

The loss is a devastating blow to a Canadian men's basketball program that had high hopes this team and this moment would set the program onto a different path.

"It's just disappointment. We had a good group of guys here, but we weren't able to get the job done," said team captain Cory Joseph.

"Everybody is disappointed. We had enough to make it. We didn't get the job done. Again. We haven't been able to go where we've wanted to go."

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press
Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

More than 700 Canadian fans inside the venue were whipped into a frenzy after Canada had scraped and clawed their way back to even and forced overtime.

But too many misses in the extra five minutes after building a five-point lead in overtime was Canada's undoing.

"You can look at the last two plays. They made a bank shot and ours banked out," said head coach Nick Nurse.

"I'm very disappointed for these guys. We worked super hard and prepared hard and they played their guts out."

Size and experience was the key to success for the Czechs, a team that out-muscled the Canadians to win Saturday's elimination game.

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press
Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

Having not played since Wednesday, it took the Canadian team the majority of the first quarter to find their rhythm. The Czechs opened up a 15-6 lead less than four minutes into the game, forcing head coach Nick Nurse to take a timeout to regroup.

Canada immediately went on an 8-0 run to get back within one point, forcing the Czechs to take a timeout.

By the time the buzzer sounded to finish the first quarter, the Czech Republic found themselves leading Canada by just two points, 29-27.

The two teams traded buckets for most of the second quarter before the Czechs knocked down back-to-back threes late with 3:44 left before halftime.

Nurse called a timeout trying to stop the Czech Republic momentum.

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press
Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

But that size and experience of the Czechs proved to be too much early in the game — Czech Republic took a 52-44 lead into halftime.

In the second half, Canada was able to chip away at the Czech lead but found themselves trailing by nine with less than a minute left.

That's when the Canadians mounted their incredible comeback, knocking down three clutch threes to force overtime.

The fans were going wild and all the momentum was on Canada's side. They bolted out to a five-point lead in overtime before the Czechs outscored the Canadians 9-2 the rest of the way, including Satoransky's game-winning shot.

"Give them credit. They played well. They were hitting tough shots. That's sometimes how the ball game goes," said Andrew Nicholson.

"There's a little disappointment, but a light at the end of the tunnel I think. Cory actually made a nice speech to us that the future looks bright, we just need to stay together."

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press
Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

That's what the focus will be now, trying to find a way to keep this core group of players together into the future.

"This was a difficult year to commit to this under protocols that everybody has been through for a long time. But the guys that did, I think, set at least some type of standard for committing to the team," Nurse said.

"There's tremendous character and personality. There's tremendous talent. If we can get a group of guys that sticks together, that always helps."

Nurse on future

Nurse was then asked about his future with the team and program after the loss.

"I love coaching and I love coaching this team. I'm trying to help basketball grow. We'll debrief it all. I just want this team to be as good as it can possibly be," Nurse said.

As for Joseph, a veteran member of the team who has endured a number of heartbreaking defeats wearing the Canadian jersey, he says he'll keep playing for Canada as long as he can.

"The Olympic dream is held dear. Time will tell if this is the end or not. We'll see," he said.

"As long as I can do it, I'll do it. It's always been a pleasure."

This was a Canadian roster that had eight current NBA players on it. Nurse talked about the heart and grit and passion going into the event. He talked about this being the "golden age" for Canadian basketball.

This is no doubt a missed opportunity for the Canadian team but one the head coach hopes they can all learn from moving forward.

"I'm extremely proud of the players who committed and the effort they made. It was a tremendous learning experience for our organization and our program," Nurse said.

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