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Basketball Canada clinches top spot in first-stage qualifying group for men’s basketball World Cup

Job No. 1 is complete for Canada’s men’s basketball team.

Kelly Olynyk and Phil Scrubb scored 14 points apiece, while teenager R.J. Barrett added 13, and the Canadians defeated the U.S. Virgin Island 99-69 on Monday, to win its group in the opening round of FIBA Americas World Cup qualifying.

Dillon Brooks added 12 points, while Cory Joseph had six assists and six rebounds for Canada (5-1).

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Now, it’s on to a tougher Round 2.

Canada was coming off a 97-61 rout of the Dominican Republic on Friday in Toronto, a victory that vaulted the Canadians atop the group.

They needed only to win Monday to clinch top spot and, boasting a squad with five NBA players plus a couple of young stars on the rise in Barrett and Andrew Nembhard, a victory was practically a given before the first ball was tossed up against a U.S Virgin Islands squad with no NBA talent at its disposal.

The Canadians, No. 29 in the FIBA rankings, led almost from the outset, and began to pull away in the second quarter. By the time they went into the fourth, Canada had a 77-50 advantage on the 49th-ranked Virgin Islands.

Former Carleton Ravens star Scrubb drew cheers from the Ottawa crowd when he drilled a three early in the fourth and the Canadians cruised to the final buzzer.

The U.S. Virgin Islands kept it close in the first quarter and the Canadians led just 20-16 heading into the second.

Canada settled down in the second and when Barrett raced downcourt after a steal and fired a lovely behind-the-back pass to Olynyk for a dunk, the play put Canada up by 11 and brought the TD Place fans out of their seats.

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Olynyk’s jumper the next time down the court put Canada up by 13 and the home team took a 46-34 lead into the halftime break.

The Canadians beat the U.S. Virgin Islands 118-89 on Feb. 22 in the Bahamas, but didn’t have their NBA reinforcements – or Barrett, who was still playing high school ball – for that qualifying window.

The top three teams in each of the four qualifying groups will now be split into two new groups of six teams apiece for the second round, which begins in September and has games in November and February.

Thirty-two countries, including seven from the Americas, will play in the World Cup – the main qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – in China in September, 2019. Canada’s men’s team hasn’t made a World Cup appearance since 2010 and hasn’t played in an Olympics since 2000.

Baylor’s Jerome Tang coaches the U.S. Virgin Islands, taking over for Sam Mitchell when the former Toronto Raptors head coach accepted a job recently as an assistant with Memphis.

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