Trailing 44-42 at halftime, the USA Men (2-1) outscored Puerto Rico (1-2) 32-14 in the third quarter to take control of the game on the way to a 93-76 win in FIBA World Cup Qualifying play in the Americas zone on Thursday night at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C.
“I thought our depth, I thought our defensive intensity turned that game,” said USA head coach Jim Boylen. “We came together and did it at the defensive end of the floor, which we’ve talked about, we’ve worked on, and we got a lot from a lot of guys. We are a group that, since day one, has come together and really cared for each other and worked hard. We were down early, didn’t maybe play as well as we had hoped, but we hung in there. I’m really happy for guys and proud of them.”
Seven-time NBA All-Star Joe Johnson (Free Agent/Arkansas) led the USA with 18 points, Matt Ryan (Grand Rapids Gold/Chattanooga) had 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point range, Justin Wright-Foreman (Birmingham Squadron/Hofstra) scored 13 points and Juwan Morgan (Maine Celtics/Indiana) contributed 12 points.
Sixty-one of the USA’s 93 points came from its bench, and Jordan Bell (Fort Wayne Mad Ants/Oregon) tied a U.S. Men’s World Cup Qualifying single-game record with three blocked shots.
“I thought in the second half, we were able to lock down defensively, get some stops, get out and get some easy baskets,” Johnson said. “And just making plays, kicking out for wide open 3s, guys knocking down shots, and obviously we kind of took the momentum in the second half and kind of ran with it.”
The USA trailed 17-9 to start the game, however, an 11-4 U.S. run that included two 3-pointers pulled the USA within one, 21-20 at 1:25. Puerto Rico answered with a 3 and score to end the first period with a 27-20 lead. While the USA shot a respectable 7-of-15 from the field (.466), Puerto Rico was at 61.1% on 11-of-18 shooting.
Puerto Rico stretched its lead to 32-22 early in the second quarter, but Ryan answered with two 3s, which were followed by five points from Morgan, and the USA was within three points, 36-33 at 4:11. The teams traded baskets, before a score from Langston Galloway (College Park Skyhawks/Saint Joseph’s) from deep was followed by points from Johnson, and the score was tied at 40-40 with 1:28 to play. Both teams added two points before Puerto Rico ended the first half scoring with a tip-in to make it 44-42 at halftime.
The U.S. defense stepped up in the second quarter and limited Puerto Rico to just 8-of-21 from the field (.381), while its offense was helped by 9-of-12 shooting from the free throw line in the second stanza.
The USA opened the second half with 3s from David Stockton (Memphis Hustle/Gonzaga) and Wright-Foreman to go ahead 48-44. The score was tied 50-50 and 52-52, before another 3-pointer from Wright-Foreman gave the USA a 55-52 lead, and the USA never again trailed.
The USA gave up just six more points in the last 6:21 of the third, while it raced to 19 points from seven different scorers to lead 74-58 at the end of the period.
“I mean, it was so much fun, getting to play a game with these guys after pretty much like a mini training camp,” Ryan said. “It was special to be able to get a win. We really bonded the past few days. We’ve worked our tails off. We’ve gone out to dinner together. We’ve gotten to know each other really well. So, to come out here our first time playing together and put on a performance like that, it’s really special. I’m just really happy to be part of it.”
The USA had its largest lead of the game, 84-60, on a dunk from Bell at 7:08, but Puerto Rico closed the game with a 16-9 run that shrank the margin to its 93-76 final score.
Bell was the USA’s leading rebounder with eight boards, while Jared Harper (Birmingham Squadron/Auburn) dished out five assists.
The USA next will wrap up the second competition window of 2021-23 FIBA World Cup Qualifying games against Mexico (3-0), who defeated Cuba (0-3) 82-72 Thursday night in Havana, at 1 pm EST on Feb. 27 at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. Tickets are available and range from $10 (plus Ticketmaster fees) to $100 (plus Ticketmaster fees) for courtside seating. For ticket information, visit Ticketmaster or USAB.com/tickets.