For the first time ever, The Bahamas has beaten Cuba in basketball, and now, the country is set up perfectly to advance to the FIBA Americas Championships for senior men, otherwise known as the Tournament of the Americas, for the first time in its history.
On the strength of an 18-4 killer run to end the game, The Bahamas pulled away from Cuba, winning, 80-68, in both teams' first game at the 2012 edition of the Centrobasket Championships, currently being played at the José Miguel Agrelot Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Point guard Marvin Gray, who was instrumental in advancing The Bahamas to the Tournament of the Americas on the junior side six years ago, and is now trying to do it on the senior side, was a major catalyst yesterday. He missed last year's Caribbean Basketball Confederation (CBC) Championships when The Bahamas won the silver medal right here at home, but he more than made up for that absence yesterday. Grand Bahama native Gray led the team in scoring with 16 points to go along with six assists and five steals. With him leading the way, The Bahamas took advantage of its superior speed and athleticism, outscoring Cuba 32-19 in fast break points.
Surprisingly, The Bahamas also dominated in the paint. Height played a major factor at last year's CBC Championships, and The Bahamas once again sent a relatively small team to compete at Centrobasket, but they were still able to outscore Cuba in the paint by a great margin. With 6'6" Jaraun 'Keno' Burrows starting at center for The Bahamas, they almost doubled up Cuba on points in the paint, 50-26.
"It shows that we are making progress all around," said New Providence Basketball Association (NPBA) President Keith 'Belsie' Smith yesterday. "The Bahamas is making strides in basketball. Beating Cuba is a great accomplishment for our national program. I salute Mario Bowleg and the rest of those guys. We still have a long way to go to re-establish our dominance in the Caribbean but it proves that we are on the right track. This is fantastic, and we could build off this. One thing it does is open the doors for more professional players to come out and be a part of the national program. It motivates them to come back and contribute. Also, eyes will be open in terms of local support and financial support.
"We knew that we would be competitive because of the work that the coaches were doing with the players so it doesn't come as a major surprise. It's just a major accomplishment. Our guys are well conditioned and I have no doubt that we will be very competitive the rest of the way."
The Bahamas got off to a very slow start, as they fell in a 9-0 hole at the beginning of the game. However, it didn't take long for this tiny nation to respond. The Bahamas pulled even at 14 on a free shot from Eugene Bain with just 1:01 remaining in the first quarter. The Bahamas led 19-16 after the first quarter, and stretched that lead to double digits about midway through the second period. A fast break basket by Burrows gave The Bahamas a 35-25 cushion. The Bahamas ended the first half ahead, 39-32.
Just like they did at the beginning of the game, The Bahamas came out sluggish in the third quarter. An 11-2 run by the Cubans pulled them even at 45 with 4:09 remaining in the third quarter. Gray then buried a three-point shot and The Bahamas persevered, holding on to a 57-54 lead at the end of three. The game went back and forth for the first five minutes of the final quarter, before Gray and Team Bahamas put away the Cubans.
Gray scored seven of his 16 points in that 18-4 run for The Bahamas at the end of the game. A free shot by Burrows gave The Bahamas a 74-65 lead with 1:34 to play. Behind Gray's side high 16 points, Bain had 10 points for The Bahamas. Burrows had nine points and eight rebounds, and Mitchell Johnson, Jean Rony Cadeau and Bennet Davis contributed eight apiece. For Cuba, Yudniel Perez Arango scored 19 points, Yoan Luis Haiti added 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists, and Juan Pineiro Marrero scored 10 points.
The Bahamas will face host country Puerto Rico in the featured game tonight at 8:30 p.m. (local time), while Cuba will go up against Nicaragua at 3:30 p.m. today. All four teams play out of Group A.
The top four teams from Centrobasket will qualify for next year's FIBA Americas Championships for senior men, where they will have an opportunity to qualify for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Two more victories in Group A would lock up a top four finish for The Bahamas at Centrobasket.
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