In the unfamiliar situation of trailing in the third quarter, the USA U16 Men (5-0) turned up its defensive pressure and Kylan Boswell (Arizona Compass H.S./Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) hit several critical 3s to ignite the USA offense and help lead the Americans to a 99-81 win over Canada (3-2) in the semifinals of the 2021 FIBA Americas U16 Championship Saturday night in Xalapa, Mexico.
The USA, which has never lost in a FIBA Americas U16 men’s competition and currently owns an all-time record of 36-0, is back in the gold medal game for a seventh straight time. The USA has claimed the championship in the previous six competitions and will face Argentina (5-0) in Sunday’s gold medal game (9:30 p.m. EDT). Argentina defeated the Dominican Republic (3-2) 76-74 in Saturday’s other semifinal. Sunday’s game is being streamed live on the FIBA YouTube channel.
“Argentina definitely likes to shoot the 3-ball, and they’re a team,” said Sharman White (Pace Academy, Ga.), USA U16 National Team head coach. “They move the ball, they kind of spread you out and try to make you draw in so they can kick the ball out and get those open 3s. So, we’ve got to do a good job of making sure we chase them off the line and keep them from getting in a rhythm of shooting 3s. And on the other end, just making sure we’re being aggressive on offense and make sure we’re making the right plays.”
The U.S. led Canada by as many as 13 points (28-15) in the first quarter, and taking a 28-17 lead into the second stanza, Canada kept the game close, and after Canada’s Efeosa Oliogu scored with :02 seconds left before halftime, the two teams headed to their locker rooms deadlocked at 47-47.
“We started pretty good, then I thought we hit a lull and we kind of got away from what we were doing to be successful which gave Canada an opportunity to get back in the game,” said White. “In the second half we made adjustments and our guys came out with a whole different mentally of being aggressive and playing the way we’ve been playing. I think that made a difference and turned the game around.”
Canada’s Ishan Sharma scored two quick buckets to give his team a 51-47 lead and put the USA in the unfamiliar territory of trailing. It marked the first time in the USA’s five games that it was behind on the scoreboard.
Boswell hit a 3-pointer to get the U.S. offense rolling and following another basket by Canada’s Sharma, Boswell connected on another trey to tie the score 53-53. Canada regained the lead 55-53, but the USA defense picked up its intensity and over the final 6:14 of the third quarter the USA outscored Canada 23-5 to grab control and a 76-60 lead after the third quarter buzzer.
“I guess you can say my shot was on,” said Boswell of his 20-point offensive explosion. “My teammates just found me in transition, they were just open shots and I had to knock them down.”
“The first couple of games I kind of worked on my shot and really wasn’t doing much offensively. I was just trying to help my team on the other end. This was a big game and I felt like I needed step up and in the flow of the game I knew my shots would fall. I just kept playing my game,” added Boswell.
The USA scored the first five points of the final period to open a 21-point lead, 81-60, and Canada never got closer than 12 points as the USA closed out strong for the win.
“At halftime we challenged them. We felt like we just had to get back to us,” said the USA mentor White. “We took the abbreviation of USA and took the US and talked about being us because we knew we were better than that, we knew we could be a better team than that. Not that we played terrible in the first half, it was just we were not ourselves for the better part of the first half. They accepted the challenge and they showed what kind of grit they have, and what kind of Moxy they have to be able to come back and take control of the game and eventually win it.”
Bowell’s 20 points came on 7-12 shooting overall and 5-of-10 accuracy from 3-point, and he filled out the stat sheet adding four rebounds, four assists and three steals. Jeremy Fears Jr. (La Lumiere School/Chicago, Ill.) finished with 18 points, Ronald Holland (Duncanville H.S./Dallas, Texas) contributed a double-double of 16 points and 16 rebounds, and Jalen Lewis (Overtime Elite/Oakland, Calif.) posted his own double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds.
“Kylan did a good job of being there when we needed him to be there,” said White. “He hit a lot of big shots. One that initiated a run and one to stop one of their runs. Overall he played a good floor game and just did a good job of being able to find his offense. I thought he had been challenged in a couple of our games with his offense and not scoring at a clip he can probably score at, but this game he was able to find his shot and make some big plays.”
The U.S. shot just 40.2% (35-87 FGs) from the floor and was outrebounded 53-51, but the USA defense limited Canada to 37.8% (26-74) shooting from the field, while forcing 24 turnovers which were converted into 32 points.
“I feel like we take pride in our defense,” said Boswell. “We’re an excellent defensive team. We make our rotations, we talk, overall we’re just a great defensive team.”
Assisting White with the 2021 USA U16 National Team are assistant coaches Eric Flannery (St. Edward H.S., Ohio) and Steve Turner (Gonzaga College H.S., D.C.).
A biennial event launched in 2009 and open to athletes 16 years old or younger, the FIBA Americas U16 Championship features eight national teams from North, South and Central America and the Caribbean. The USA Basketball men have won the gold medal in all six editions of the tournament since its debut in 2009.