USA Men’s AmeriCup Qualifying Team (6-0) wasted no time in racing past Mexico (2-4), holding a 58-33 advantage at halftime en route to a 96-75 victory to close out qualifying games for the 2022 FIBA AmeriCup on Saturday evening in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Ra’Shad James (Orasi Ravenna, Italy/Northwood) paced the USA to victory with 21 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor and 3-of-3 from 3-point; Brandon Bass (Free Agent/LSU) contributed 12 points and five rebounds; Joe Johnson (Free Agent/Arkansas) notched 11 points, a game-high-tying nine rebounds and a game-high seven assists; and Will Davis II (Free Agent/UC Irvine) added 10 points and five boards.
“I thought (the cohesiveness) was huge with this team, in a short amount of time how well they came together,” said USA head coach Joe Prunty . “Obviously, you think about the basketball first, it’s what people will look at, but part of it was, they came together as a group. They helped each other a lot, whether it was learning the system or coverages or things like that throughout the week. That led to the play and the selflessness that each guy played with.”
“I thought it was great,” said Johnson of the team’s overall effort. “I thought collectively as a team we played great. We moved the basketball and got stops and got out and go easy baskets. It was fun that way.”
Mexico scored its lone 3 of the first half 10 seconds into the game, but the USA squad quickly strung together 11-straight points. Mexico outscored the USA 7-3 over the next two minutes, but a 13-0 USA run put the red, white and blue on top 27-10 with 1:57 remaining in the quarter. By the end of the first period, the U.S. was ahead 31-15.
In the second quarter, the USA continued to increase its lead and pushed it to 20 points, 58-28, with :48 to play before halftime. Mexico scored the half’s final five points and the teams headed into halftime with the USA owning a 55-33 victory.
The USA eased up in the second half for the eventual 96-75 victory.
“Coming off the bench, I had the hot hand, so I tried to stay poised and focus on doing the right things, taking the right shots and tonight, for me, was rolling,” said James, who helped the USA’s bench outscore Mexico’s reserves 49-21.
The red, white and blue shot 50.7% (35-59 FGs) and a red-hot 40.7% (11-27 3pt FGs) from 3-point, while its defense held Mexico to an ice 37.5% (27-72 FGs) from the field and a mere 19% (4-21 3-pt FGs) from afar.
USA head coach Joe Prunty
On tonight’s game and the cohesiveness of the team:
I thought (the cohesiveness) was huge with this team, in a short amount of time how well they came together. Obviously, you think about the basketball first, it’s what people will look at, but part of it was, they came together as a group. That led to … they helped each other a lot, whether it was learning the system or coverages or things like that throughout the week. That led to the play and the selflessness that each guy played with. That even translates to things like Isaiah saying, ‘Hey coach, I’m good. Put these other guys in. Let them play and give them the minutes.’
You see guys like Ra’Shad James, Jordan Sibert, had a lot of good looks tonight. Again, just the selflessness of the entire group and the way they represented one another, the way they represented the USA, it was an amazing job by Sean Ford and the staff to put together a team like this.
How important was the unselfishness of this team from the jump, especially knowing how important this game was for Mexico and its hopes for qualifying for the AmeriCup?
Very important. It was important, not only for the magnitude of the importance of the game for Mexico but how good of a team that they are. They are extremely physical. They are well coached, although this coach is new from the last window. They have players that played on the 2018 team that the U.S. played against. So, all that stuff, you have to really, really factor it in when you’re going into the game and trying to compete against an opponent that you think, ‘Okay, we’re Team USA, we’re 5-0, we’ve clinched (a berth into the 2022 FIBA AmeriCup).’ That’s not what we’re about. We really represent something bigger than ourselves; we did that and we talked about the fact that we have a standard to uphold.
After coaching him through these two games, do you think Isaiah Thomas deserves another shot in the NBA?
I certainly think he can help teams. One of the things that I was really focusing on was how he moved out on the floor. Looking at his running the floor, running a team, movements defensively, he looks good to me. He not only played well, but he moved well. So, you play a 40-minute game, the stats are going to be different. You look at the tone that he set the other night, in the first two minutes he hits three 3s, we’re up 11-2. You take the start of the game in the first game and he gets us to an 11-2 lead and he’s the same guy who, as we have the lead late in the game, he’s like, ‘coach, make sure you get these guys in.’ He’s thinking about his teammates. So again, even if he wasn’t moving well and doing all the things that he did to look good as a player, he’s also a great teammate. He brings so much to the table.
Ra’Shad James (Orasi Ravenna, Italy/Northwood)
On his performance against Mexico:
I thought we really set the tone defensively. On me coming off the bench, I had the hot hand, so I tried to stay poised and focus on doing the right things, taking the right shots and tonight, for me, was rolling.
What was it like being a part of such an unselfish group and what’s next for you?
It’s amazing. Any player would want to be a part of a situation like this. You have guys who bought into a system very quickly. Like coach alluded to earlier, it’s a selfless bunch of guys. So, on any given night, looking at the roster, anyone could go off for 30 (points). But that wasn’t the concern for us. The concern for us was to play as a team and dominate like we did on both ends of the floor.
In regard to your second question, I’m a free agent right now. So, I’m going to let God do his thing and let whatever happens, happen.
FIBA play is different from the NBA, how did you feel about this experience?
I’m not unfamiliar. I’ve been playing overseas for seven years now, so for me it was a really easy adjustment. The physicality, the way they play defensively. For me, it’s one and the same. At the end of the day, it’s basketball and we were able to capitalize.
What did you learn being around some of the guys who have played a lot of years in the NBA?
Just the overall professionalism. These guys are focused. They don’t take any shortcuts within practices and that is why they can carry over the same energy into games. I got a chance to pick Joe Johnson’s brain a little bit to get some post moves and stuff like that, since I’m a bigger guard. He was very willing to help me in that regard. I appreciate those guys. I appreciate everybody else, from my teammates to the staff, they did a phenomenal job these past 10 days.
What was this experience like for you?
It was great. Any time you get to represent the United States of America, it’s a great honor. I felt that it was great the way we did, with two wins and now we’re headed back home.
Joe Johnson (Free Agent/Arkansas)
On the USA’s performance against Mexico:
I thought it was great. I thought collectively as a team we played great. We moved the basketball and got stops and got out and go easy baskets. It was fun that way.
How did this help you?
It was therapeutic for me. Being able to play and compete at a high level, I really enjoyed it. I love the game of basketball so much, I’m just glad I got the opportunity.
What’s next for you in your career?
I don’t know. I’ll take it one day at a time. We’ll see what happens next, I’m not sure.
Did you see improvement from the first game to today?
I saw a big improvement in us moving the basketball, taking our time, being patient and getting great shots offensively. Most importantly, getting stops so we could get out in transition and get easy baskets. I thought it was great.
How much enjoyment did you get, wearing a USA Basketball jersey again?
I loved it so much. I appreciate the opportunity. I don’t know how I got invited but thank you. I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity than this.
For more information on the USA Basketball team fans are encouraged to click on the link seen here: