The 2020 USA Men’s AmeriCup Qualifying Team (1-0), which led from wire-to-wire, sprinted to a 27-point halftime lead and held off Puerto Rico (0-1) in the second half to take a 83-70 victory on Thursday night in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Ten U.S. players put points on the board, led by a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds from Jalen Jones (Capital City Go-Go/Texas A&M). Also scoring in double digits were James Webb (Iowa Wolves/Boise State) with 13, Justin Anderson (Long Island Nets/Virginia) added 11 points and Jaylen Adams (Wisconsin Herd/St. Bonaventure), who shot a perfect 4-of-4 from the field and had a pair of 3s, chipped in 10 points.
“Our team effort in the first half sensational. It was about as good of a first half as you can play. We defended and we shot the ball well,” said USA head coach Mike Fratello. “Jalen (Jones) is an inspiration to us. Jalen is a guy who when he is on top and talking, he’s a glue, he brings our team together. And then when he steps up and makes a big shot at the right time, or a couple free throws when we need it, they’re the keys to us being able to hang on.
“We have great respect for Puerto Rico, we knew at halftime, and all the players said it, not just me, the players said ‘they’ll come after us’ because they know that’s how Puerto Rico plays. But we had some big buckets along the way, some second shots, we made our free throws when we had to, and this guy (Jalen Jones) was the glue for our defense. So I’m very happy for these young men, very happy for us after a lot of hard work.”
Holding an 8-6 lead early on, the USA netted a trio of 3s in a 11-0 run that put the U.S. up 19-6 midway through the first period. The USA continued to increase its lead to 33-14 behind nine 3s after the first 10 minutes of play.
“We’ve been putting in so much work like coach said, practice after practice, a lot of film sessions and we knew this wasn’t going to be an easy game,” said Jones. “The coaches did a great job of preparing us for this, we knew it was going to be a battle, knew it was going to be a fight. I’m just glad we were able to win. Puerto Rico came out with a great competitive spirit and it was a great game.
“Our guards did a great job of penetrating and kicking it, and we were down and ready to get shots and they happened to fall for us early in the first quarter. We did a great job in practice of practicing what we wanted to do it in the game and it showed today. We were shot ready and they happened to fall in for us early.”
The USA outscored Puerto Rico 18-10 in the second quarter to up its lead at halftime to 51-24 and by the midway point, nine U.S. players had scored, led by Webb’s 13 points and 11 from Jones. Further, Adams and Anderson scored eight points apiece in the first half, which saw the USA net a total of 11 3s.
Puerto Rico outscored the USA 26-14 in the third quarter to pull back to within 15 points, 65-50.
Although the fourth quarter was relatively even scoring wise, won by Puerto Rico 20-18, the USA lead was cut to 10 points three times in the quarter, but each time the Americans scored a crucial basket to turn back the rally.
Leading 65-50 heading into the fourth quarter, Puerto Rico outscored the U.S. 9-4 over the first 3:00 to cut the lead to 69-59. Adams halted the run with a jumper, but Puerto Rico came right back to score and make it a 10-point game once again, 71-61. Anderson tallied three points and Ivan Rabb (Westchester Knicks/California) added a basket in a 5-0 run to help increase the USA lead to 76-61 with 4:24 to play.
Puerto Rico fought back one last time and scored four points to close the gap to 11 points, 76-65, with 3:39 to go, but again the USA had an answer as Demps scored, Magette made two free throws and Eric Mika (Stockton Kings/Brigham Young) added one free throw to seal the game and earn the USA the 83-70 win.
In all, the USA finished the night shooting 40.7% (11-27 3pt FGs) from 3-point and a sizzling 91.7% (22-24 FTs) from the foul line. Additionally, the USA’s bench outscored Puerto Rico’s reserves 33-17.
“I think we were hyped to play, we were excited to finally get an opponent that wasn’t us,” said Mika, who finished with eight points, six rebounds and four assists. “We moved the ball, we shared the ball and we were knocking down shots like none other so we built our self a nice little lead. We knew they were going to come out in the second half and be super aggressive and that they were going to start making their shots but I think we did a great job and it showed a lot of who were are as a team, having come together so shortly (ago), like a week ago or whatever it was. But we hung in there and kept our composure, we trusted each other, we trusted what we worked on and we kept them out. It got down to 10, the crowd was going crazy and it was a fun atmosphere, but you know we didn’t doubt it for a single moment and that was a pretty cool feeling.”
In other opening night action Thursday, Venezuela (1-0) surprised Argentina (0-1) 74-68, Colombia (1-0) nipped Chile (0-1) 60-59, and Mexico (1-0) defeated the Bahamas (0-1) 75-61.
The USA will continue its training Feb. 21 in Washington, D.C., and the USA will play a home game on Sunday, Feb. 23 (3 p.m. EST) versus Puerto Rico at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. The full AmeriCup Qualifying schedule is available at https://www.usab.com/mens/americup/game-schedule.aspx. Tickets for the Feb. 23 USA-Puerto Rico game are on sale and range from $5 (plus Ticketmaster fees) for general admission to $72 (plus Ticketmaster fees) for courtside seating. For ticket information visit www.ticketmaster.com or USAB.com/ACQ.