There’s an aura of excitement around this era of Bahamian senior men’s national team basketball.
After their first game together…it’s easy to see why.
NBA stars Buddy Hield, Deandre Ayton, and Eric Gordon led The Bahamas to a dominant 109 – 68 win over Cuba the in the opening game of the FIBA Americas Pre-Olympic Qualifying tournament in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Neither played over 27 minutes on the floor, but Hield finished with a game-high 24 points, Ayton posted a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds while Gordon finished with 17 points.
Hield noted the effect Ayton had on the team in his return to the national team program for the first time since 2016.
“Basketball comes easy when you have the big fella. His talent feels unmatched out there, it’s something you can’t teach,” he said, “He’s the type of player everyone wants to play with, it makes the game so easy for everyone around him and I’m glad to see him here, he changed a lot. Everyone 1 through 12 played their role.”
They led five Bahamians in double figures. Franco Miller finished with 18 points and Kentwan Smith added 10 off the bench.
The three-point ball powered much of the Bahamian offense as the team shot 50 percent (17-34) from beyond the arch.
Three players made at least four three-point field goals and six players made at least two from beyond the arch.
Miller shot 4-6, Gordon was 4-7 and Hield shot 4-12. Smith and Dominick Bridgewater both went 2-3.
“It feels good, I’m here to get this team to the Olympics,” Gordon said after he made his official national team debut, “That’s the main goal, can’t be satisfied with one win and we are going to look forward to winning more and more games. “
Gordon credited much of the three-point opportunities to Ayton commanding so much attention from the Cuban defense.
“He’s going to be a threat so we need to use him as much as possible and when he gets doubled team that’s when you have guys like me that can space the floor or can get it to him whenever he needs it.”
Ayton was dominant in the paint, shooting 10-14 from the field and leading team Bahamas to a 49-34 advantage in that area.
“It felt amazing, felt fun, truly an emotional feeling having so many Bahamian guys, so many great players just chasing the same goal and understanding the opportunity,” Ayton said, “We can only go as far as we take each other so it’s truly a blessing and an honor to put that Bahamas across your chest and represent your country.”
Tum Tum Nairn led the team with seven assists, while Bridgewater and Travis Munnings each scored seven.
“You put a good group of guys together and we are going to take that pride pretty far. We have a big chip on our shoulders, we just have to make sure we keep others accountable and do the right thing,” Ayton said, “Having Buddy and Tum Tum as vocal leaders – keeping everybody right understanding that it’s ok to call your brothers out the respectful way, the right way….it just makes everything fun.”
Tied at seven early in the first quarter, a Gordon three gave The Bahamas the lead for good and they outscored Cuba 13-9 the rest of the period to take a 20-16 lead into the second.
The Bahamas had its best quarter defensively in the second, limiting Cuba to just 12 points. They opened the quarter on a 14-0 run, capped by a Hield three to make it 34-16 with 6:57 left to play in the half. The lead reached as much as 19 on an Ayton turnaround jumper and team Bahamas took a 46-28 lead at the half.
Gordon’s three-pointer early in the third quarter pushed the lead over 20 for the first time and gave The Bahamas a 53-32 lead at the 7:48 mark in the third. The lead ballooned to 35 just over five minutes later when Garvin Clarke connected with Smith for an alley-oop for a 76-41 lead. They outscored Cuba 33-18 in the period and led 79-46 headed into the fourth.
The Bahamas again outscored Cuba 30-22 in the fourth in the rout.
Next up for The Bahamas is a matchup against Argentina Wednesday night to complete play in Group A. The teams will play against each other in a single round-robin format. The top two teams of the group after the Group Phase will qualify for the Final Phase.
The Final will be played on Sunday, August 20, with the winner of the competition continuing on the Road To Paris 2024 by taking a place in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments next year.
Game notes: Miller scored nine of his 18 points in the fourth. The Bahamas shot 63 percent from two-point range, 50 percent from three, and 83 percent from the free throw line. They forced 18 turnovers and scored 21 points off those turnovers. They also had the edge in fastbreak points (27-13), points in the paint (46-34), and points off the bench (39-24). The Bahamas last played Argentina in the 2nd Round – Group E of the FIBA Americas World Cup Qualifiers. Argentina won 80-76.