SANTO DOMINGO — The Virgin Islands’ senior men’s national basketball team tried its best but came up short against a stronger team, losing to the Dominican Republic 99-89 last night in its opening group-play game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Americas Qualifier.
Eloy Camacho Vargas had a double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds to lead three other players in double figures for the Dominican Republic (1-0 in Group D).
Sadiel Rojas also had a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, Eulis Baez Benjamin added 17 points, and Ronald Ramon Guerrero scored 16 points for the Dominican Republic, hosting Friday’s game in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic.
Jamaal Omar Samuel scored a game-high 25 points for the V.I. National Team (0-1). Walter Hodge added 20 points, Xavier Shamal Richards had 12 points and Leron Smith 10.
Down by 11 points midway through the third quarter, the V.I. National Team rallied to lead 73-72 on Leron Smith’s dunk with 9 minutes, 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter. But Guerrero hit back-to-back 3-pointers to kick off a 13-2 run that put the Dominican Republic back in the lead.
Three who mattered
Eloy Camacho Vargas, Dominican Republic: The 6-foot-11 center made 8 of 14 from the field, and 3 of 4 on free throws. But his real strength was in rebounding — of his 11 boards, eight came on the offensive glass.
Walter Hodge, V.I.: Not one of his better shooting games, making 5 of 14 (and missed all three of his 3-point attempts). He also made 10 of 11 free throws, and added seven assists.
Jamaal Omar Samuel, V.I.: Was nearly perfect shooting, making 12 of 13 shots, and also had a team-best seven rebounds.
• With several of its younger players unavailable because of the start of the college basketball season, the V.I. National Team had just eight players dressed for Friday’s game. The V.I. was also supposed to host the opener, but the game was moved after the territory suffered damage from hurricanes Irma and Maria.
• The V.I. actually had the better shooting game, making 55.4 percent from the field to 41.2 percent by the Dominican Republic. But the raw numbers tell a different story — the V.I. made 36 of 65 shots, including 4 of 10 3-pointers, while the Dominican Republic hit 35 of 85, and 9 of 32 3-pointers.
• The Dominican Republic was nearly perfect at the free-throw line, making 20 of 22 shots, while the V.I. hit just 13 of 18 attempts.
• One of the keys to the V.I.’s second-half rally came from shutting down Rojas. The 6-foot-4 forward had 17 points in the first half, but was held to no points and only one rebound over the final two quarters.
• Two areas where the V.I. hurt itself the most came in rebounding and turnovers. The Dominican Republic had a slight advantage on the boards (45-38), but nearly half of its rebounds came on the offensive glass (22-9). Meanwhile, the V.I. had 22 turnovers, to only eight by the Dominican Republic.
The USVI National Team travels to Nassau to play the Bahamas on Monday in its second group-play game. Game time is 9 p.m.
At the official draw ceremony, conducted on Sunday at the Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China, the U.S. Virgin Islands was placed in Group D with the Bahamas, Canada and the Dominican Republic.
Group C will comprise of Mexico, Puerto Rico, United States and Cuba. Group A will comprise of Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Panama. Group B will include Venezuela, Chile and Colombia.
The top seven teams will advance to China 2019.