MAR DEL PLATA (Argentina) – Dominican Republic wasn’t going to miss another FIBA World Cup. The Caribbean nation qualified for the third consecutive time to basketball’s biggest tournament after a 36-year absence, defeating Argentina 79-75 at Polideportivo Islas Malvinas in Mar del Plata.
The Dominicans punched their ticket in the last game of Window 6, despite playing on the road and finding themselves down 17 points with 12 minutes remaining in the game. They completed the improbable comeback and silenced an 8,000-deep Argentinian crowd to finish second in Group E, only behind Canada, with a 9-3 record.
Nestor “Che” García, who returned to the country after leaving the Argentina squad, asked his players to remain calm despite the 12-point deficit. “Our good moment will arrive,” he claimed. And it sure did, starting at the end of the third quarter – when the dynamic changed on the floor.
Their zone defense gummed up the works for the Argentinian offense, while on the other end of the floor they focused on attacking the key. Jean Montero, at only 19 years of age, looked like a veteran in the clutch and scored 18 – nine in the fourth – of his 22 points in the second half.
“Our mentality was different when we entered the last quarter. We knew that we weren’t going to tie the game in a single possession, so we had to work on it. Coach told us that the last 3 minutes of the game would be key and that’s what happened. We got the win because we didn’t give up. I still can’t believe we’re going to the World Cup,” said Montero, who also had 3 steals.
Montero drained a free-throw line jumper with 1:19 left in regulations to tie the score at 71 and erase a 17-point deficit. Andrés Feliz then stole the ball and Víctor Liz put DR ahead 75-73 with 57.4 seconds left. The Dominican defense held Gabriel Deck, Facundo Campazzo and Nicolás Laprovíttola to just 8 points in the final quarter. Montero then sealed the deal with a bucket that made the score 79-75 with 19 seconds left.
Argentina snapped a streak of 9 consecutive World Cups, and they’ll miss the tournament for the first time since 1982. In the last edition, in 2019 in China, they won the silver medal.
“We didn’t knock them out and doubt started creeping in. This is a tough hit. Emotionally, we couldn’t get back up after they tied the game. It’s going to hurt to watch (the World Cup) on TV. It’s my responsibility,” said Argentina’s head coach Pablo Prigioni.
Deck shined with 27 points on 10 of 15 from the field. Campazzo, Marcos Delía and Laprovíttola added 10 points apiece.