Despite 17 points from Dante Exum, the Australian men’s Under 17 national team has opened the preliminary round of the FIBA U17 World Championship with an 89-67 loss to tournament favourites the USA on Friday afternoon in Kaunas, Lithuania.
Exum, the son of former NBL star Dante Exum, was a stand-out for the Australians and the only player to score in double-figures.
Nicholas Duncan added nine points, 13 rebounds and two blocks for Australia while Mirko Djeric had eight points and six assists.
For the US, Stephen Domingo poured in 17 points to lead five teammates in double-digit scoring as the Americans used a 36-14 third-quarter burst to pull away from Australia.
Despite the loss, the Australians pushed the Americans.
“In the first half they beat us to the basketball too many times,” said US coach Don Showalter. “We got outrebounded in the first half. That’s probably the first time in my four years here that we’ve been outrebounded in a half. Obviously in the second half we righted the ship and took care of the little things.”
The Americans led wire-to-wire, but came out flat and found that Australia was hard to shake. By the end of the first quarter, which saw Domingo swish in back-to-back threes early in the game, the USA’s lead was six points, 18-12.
The second quarter started with both teams swapping buckets, and Australia cut the lead to four, 23-19, at 7:37. The USA hit a 6-3 spurt, however, to expand the gap to 29-22 at 5:56. Australia wouldn’t go away and with the help of its zone defense, scored five straight points. Showalter used one of his timeouts to regroup.
When play resumed the Americans strung together a 7-0 run and the expanded their lead to its largest of the half, 36-27, with 1:49 remaining until the break. By halftime, however, Australia was trailing by six points again, 39-33, after outscoring the U.S. 6-3 in the final 1:27.
The second half opened with Australia attempting to chip away, and at 8:11 the score was 43-38. That was as close as the Aussies would get. With the score standing at 46-40, Jahlil Okafor hit three consecutive buckets inside for the US including a huge dunk and the Americans were off and running. Holding Australia to just a free throw during a 5:12 span, the red, white and blue outscored its opponents 19-1 to take a commanding 65-41 lead with 2:25 to go in the stanza.
By the end of the third quarter, the US held a commanding 75-47 lead and despite Australia’s efforts in the final period, the Americans cruised to an eventual 89-67 win.
In today's other Group A games, China defeated Egypt 80-68 and Czech Republic edged France 70-64. In Group B Spain (1-0) downed South Korea (1-0) 80-62, while Canada (1-0) went down to the wire against host Lithuania (0-1) and came away with a 68-63 overtime victory.
Australia next face China on Saturday.