Jamal Murray has yet to arrive at the University of Kentucky to play his first collegiate game, but the 18-year-old guard contributed 20 points to a 88-83 victory over powerhouse Argentina at the Pan Am Games in Toronto.
It was a heart-breaking loss for Argentina who fell to 0-2 and last place in pool play, losing to Mexico in overtime on Tuesday.
Having a recent high school graduate on the Senior Men’s National Team only serves to emphasize the warm-up status of these Pan Am Games as the Men’s Olympic qualifying tournament is in Mexico at the end of August, however, the game had all the intensity of an international contest that neither team wanted to lose. Tied at 80 with 50 seconds left to go in the fourth quarter, it took a personal 6-0 run by Brady Heslip over the next 42 seconds to decide the game.
Argentina had read the scouting report on how Heslip shot the Dominican out of the first game with 24 points and it wasn’t anything they hadn’t seen before. Heslip is known to bury teams that disrespect his shooting ability. There was hardly a moment when Heslip didn’t have a blue and white striped shirt in his face and a forearm in his chest as soon as he crossed the time line. The tactic worked up until the dying seconds as Heslip was held to just 10 points on 3-8 shooting. However, all that attention on one side of the perimeter meant Murray could play his game and Team Canada’s big men got to work against single-coverage in the paint most of the time.
Andrew Nicholson feasted inside going one-on-one pouring in a game-high 24 points and grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds. He was like an unstoppable force in the paint. The 7’5 giant Sim Bhullar was an unstoppable force with 4 points, 2 rebounds and 3 blocks in just over 12 minutes. He only needs to get in good enough shape to stay in the game.
As promised by head coach Jay Triano before the tournament started, Anthony Bennett played a lot of center beside Nicholson and the pairing was effective. Bennett put together his second solid outing in a row scoring 17 points on 6-6 shooting and taking down 6 rebounds.
“I don’t mind him playing the five spot,” Triano said. “Especially if Andrew Nicholson is spreading the floor as a stretch four.”
Argentina was led by Facundo Campazzo with 23 points and 5 assists and Nicolas Laprovitola with 22 points and 7 assists. Argentina led from 2:17 left in the first half until there was just 6:49 left in the game, but a 13-5 run by Canada to start the fourth quarter gave the host Country the lead back and allowed for Heslip’s winning heroics at the end.
While it was Nicholson’s turn to dominate inside while his frontcourt partner Bennett didn’t miss a shot, the night belonged to the yet-to-be college freshman Murray. It looks like the University of Kentucky still knows what they are doing when it comes to recruiting the good ones.
“The body is healthy,” Triano said after watching Bennett working out with Team Canada. “He is as fit as he’s ever been. He is in great shape. He still does all the things, he’s an energy player. He has a great skill-set. He can do a little bit of everything. ”