With 280 days since a USA Basketball national team last stepped onto the basketball court, the USA Men’s AmeriCup Qualifying Team (3-0) represented its country well with a dominant 99-59 victory over the Bahamas (1-2) on Sunday afternoon at the Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The USA shot 51.4% from the field (38-74 FGs) and 41.4% from 3-point (12-29 3pt FGs), dished out 22 assists, committed just seven turnovers and 11 players put points on the board.
The USA next will take on Mexico (1-1) at 7:30 p.m. EST on Nov. 30 (ESPN+). Due to COVID-19 precautions, no spectators or media are permitted at the game. The USA’s game against Mexico will wrap up its second window of FIBA AmeriCup Qualifying, with the third-and-final window set for February 2021.
“They tried to show a zone. They started zone, switched to man, they switched everything, and you can only do so many things in a game when you have a limited number of bodies, said USA head coach Mike Fratello of the Bahamas, which suited up just eight players. “And I was really happy with the way our guys recognized whatever it was, attacked it. And defensively, I thought we were good. If I’m right, I think at halftime we did not have any turnovers. And that’s obviously vital to you being able to score, because if you don’t turn the ball over, you give yourself more opportunities to score the basketball. But we had a number of people, five, six people, in double figures and one or two that were close to being in double figures. I like the unselfishness that we played with and passing the ball to the open man. But for me, the players know this, I start at the defensive end, and we’re doing well at the defensive end of the floor.”
Against the Bahamas, the USA was led by Amile Jefferson (Iowa Wolves/Philadelphia, Pa.) with 17 points and 11 rebounds; Tyler Hall (Westchester Knicks/Rock Island, Ill.), who was 4-of-6 from 3-point on his way to 12 points and four assists; John Jenkins (Hapoel Eilat, Israel/Hendersonville, Tenn.) with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point; Levi Randolph (Canton Charge/Madison, Ala.), who shot 4-of-4 from the free throw line and finished with 11 points and seven rebounds; and Travis Trice (Gemani Basket Brescia, Italy/Huber Heights, Ohio) with 10 points and six assists.
The USA outrebounded Bahamas 55-32 and recorded 50 points off of the bench.
“For a lot of guys, you know, this is their first game, real actual game playing since March,” Jefferson said. “So, to be back out there after a great week of practicing and getting to know each other and building chemistry was amazing. And the fact that we’re playing for USA, it’s something bigger than ourselves, makes it all that much better. So, I thought our guys played really hard and aggressive, and I thought the coaches put in a great game plan. We executed, so I was really happy with our performance today.”
Never trailing, the first quarter saw the USA methodically compile a 24-14 lead behind 40.0% shooting from the field (8-20 FGs), while its defense kept Bahamas cool at just 23.5% from the field (4-17 FGs). Kaiser Gates (Maine Red Claws/Alpharetta, Ga.) led the USA in the first period with seven points and four rebounds.
The USA came out with the hot hand in the second quarter – sinking four 3-pointers in the first 3:50 to go up 42-23 when Bahamas called a time out. And while Bahamas went on to sink a couple from deep, the USA pushed its lead to 24 points, 53-29, by halftime. Hall added nine points for the USA in the second period, while Jefferson accounted for eight.
At the midway point, the USA had upped its shooting percentage to 47.5% and held a 28-17 rebounding advantage.
The USA opened the second half with back-to-back 3s, but Bahamas remained about where it had started the first half, and was down 26 points, 67-41 at 4:17. From there, however, the USA put together its largest run of the game, 10-0, to pull away to 77-41. Bahamas scored the last points of the third quarter, and the USA led 77-43 with 10 minutes to play.
The USA reached its largest lead of the game in the fourth quarter, 43 points, at 4:49 when a Jenkins 3-pointer made it 89-46. Bahamas rallied to outscore the USA 13-10 over the final minutes to bring the game to the 99-59 final score.
Mike Fratello, USA Head Coach
How was the battle in the first game versus the Bahamas?
I think you have to be fair and when you look at it and evaluate the fact that they came with limited bodies. They had a couple people they thought they could use, that they were not allowed to use because of the quarantine situation. And then, compound it with in-game injuries and even made it a shorter rotation. But I thought their coaches, I thought they did as much as they could try to do with what they had. They tried to show a zone. They started zone, switched to man, they switched everything. And you can only do so many things in a game when you have a limited number of bodies. And I was really happy with the way our guys recognized whatever it was, attacked it. And defensively, I thought we were good. If I’m right, I think at halftime we did not have any turnovers. And that’s obviously vital to you being able to score, because if you don’t turn the ball over, you give yourself more opportunities to score the basketball. But we had a number of people five, six people in double figures, one or two that were close to being in double figures, I like the unselfishness that we played with and passing the ball to the open man. But for me, the players know this, I start at the defensive end, and we’re doing well the defensive end of the floor. And because of the limitations that they had on number of bodies and personnel, they could only run so many things. And if we took first option away, second option away, then you turn the game into a one-on-one game, and we had to be prepared to guard people off the dribble, and I thought that we did a good job.
I’m just curious what this opportunity, these first three games, what this has meant to you. You took the chance to wear that flag on your sleeve and USA Basketball on your chest. What has this opportunity meant to somebody who’s obviously done a lot in this game?
It’s one of the greatest honors that I’ve had throughout my entire coaching career. And that’s why when I was called the first time and asked to coach the window last February, I was honored and I just wanted us to be able to do as well as we could and play as well as we could to represent our country and represent the game of basketball. You know, how we play it and how it should be played. And they did a great job back in February. Now you inherit a new group of people, and you’re hoping that you have enough time. There’s a little different situation here than it was back in February when we practiced at the University of Miami. Before we drove up and had to go to another tough city, Orlando to play an exhibition game. Here, we’re in, you know, the confines of the hotel and checked every day for the COVID virus, and guys hadn’t played for seven or eight months. So, there’s a lot going into this for, not just our team, every team had to deal with what the situation was. So be able to coach this was a blessing for me. It just means so much to me.
The follow up, you said no turnovers in the first half, the unselfish of the group — for a bunch of guys who have been together for what five practices, six practices, maybe, did that surprise you at all?
I really need to give the assistants a lot of credit, because they got to the players, before practices or after practices and they kept pounding away at the fact that this is how we have to play. If we’re going to have a chance of winning these games against the other countries, we have to move the basketball. We can have the ball, you know so many of our players, because of where they play, whether it’s in another country, or in the G League, wherever it might be, if they get a shot up with the big club in the NBA, the ball sticks a lot, and when they get their minutes and they get their opportunity, they think they have to make it happen themselves right away. And between the coaches and there’s three or four guys that we have, veteran guys, Levi Randolph and John Jenkins, Amile (Jefferson), those guys delivered the message to the rest of the players about, here’s how you have to play now, you’re going to get yours. Okay, but if the next guy has a better shot than you have, then give it to the next guy, and it’ll come back to you. And I have to thank those leaders, I have to thank the coaches for the time they put in, and not forgetting that Bahamas had a very difficult situation here.
How did you keep your players engaged and keeping keep the ball going and not give up?
Well, one thing we had done, we had shown on the Puerto Rico game from back in the February window when the score that was 63-38, and then the next time the score was nine points. And that’s how quickly the lead disappeared, because all the good things we did, we stopped doing. And we allowed Puerto Rico to get back their confidence, allowed them to get into a groove. And when you start knocking down 3s and we’re turning the ball over, we had to make a big shot with about four-and-a-half, five minutes ago to hold them off and win that game in Puerto Rico. And we tried to explain to them, this is what happens if you get up and then you don’t play the same way after you get up big. You forget about it and you relax and you get out of your stance and you allow them to get wide open shots that aren’t contested and they get follow up offensive rebounds, put it back in. So, you know, we wanted to be guarded against that at half time, understanding we want to come out when this third quarter. You win the third quarter, you’re not losing anything off the lead, and they did a very good job of concentrating on that.
Good game from you guys. How did you feel getting back on the court?
I felt great. For a lot of guys, you know, this is first game, real actual game playing since March. So, to be back out there after a great week of practicing and getting to know each other and building chemistry was amazing. And the fact that, you know, we’re playing for USA, it’s something bigger than ourselves makes it, you know, all the much better. So, I thought our guys played really hard and aggressive, and I thought the coaches put in a great game plan. We executed, so I was really happy with our performance today.
It looked like you guys opened up a little sluggish, or slow, and then in the third, fourth quarter picked it up and took over. How did that feel, the chemistry in the third and fourth quarter?
Well, you know, the Bahamas came out really aggressive, and they have some really good players. You know, unfortunately, they only had seven players. So, they’re a little short maned. But, you know, they came out, you know, great. I thought we respond well. And then we came out with a verve, and did a great job on defense of talking of rotating, especially of rebounding. And then offensively, I thought we shared the ball excellently. And it started with our point guards, in Tyler (Hall) and Travis Trice. And so them manning the ship, and all the other guys getting behind and getting on board and being on the same page, it was great. And it’s always great to see, you know, a team come together, especially in a short period of time.
You guys get a chance tomorrow to clinch a spot for the USA in the AmeriCup 2022. What do you think that feeling is going to be like tomorrow? And how important is to get this box checked?
I think it’s huge. And, you know, for the guys playing to put this jersey on and play for USA Basketball, it’s the ultimate sign of playing for something bigger than yourself. And, you know, for me, I played for Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski), who was the head coach of, you know, the USA team for many years, and, you know, the joy and love that he had and the commitment he had for his country was amazing. And so to be a part of that, any part of that, is amazing. We have such a great coaching group here, and I’m super proud to be able to play for them and to play for USA Basketball.
You mentioned that you guys have great chemistry and rhythm on the court, as well as you kind of went off with 17 points. What was key to that success, and how do you guys make that happen on the court?
I think it was our game planning and preparation throughout the week. I thought we had, you know, great attention to detail, and our practices were really hard. And you know, the first couple of days being able to scrimmage and go up against each other and learn and build that camaraderie I think really helped and it really showed. And guys were comfortable, you know, making the next pass, because you trust your teammate and that trust is built over days and days of coming in the gym, working hard together, you know, for two-plus hours, three hours every day. And, you know, that kind of commitment is what helps a good team, you know, really play well.
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