USA beat Cuba in FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifiers
Chihuahua, Mexico — Outscoring a distraught Cuba (0-1) 11-6 in the 3:40 final, USA (1-0) opened the FIBA Basketball World Cup Qualifier with a victory hard-fought 95-90 Sunday in Chihuahua, Mexico. The United States will complete the first World Cup qualifying window Monday at 9 p.m. EST against Mexico (1-0). Mexico defeated Puerto Rico (0-1) 90-86 in the Group D final on Sunday night. The USA-Mexico match will be streamed live on Twitch.
Two-time NBA All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas (free agent) finished with an American-high 21 points, including a critical 3-pointer with 13.3 seconds left to help seal the victory for the United States. BJ Johnson (Lakeland Magic) added 16 points on 4-of-7 3-pointers, Brian Bowen II (Iowa Wolves) contributed 16 points and added a team-best nine rebounds, while Justin Anderson (free agent) scored 10 points.
“It was a great game, it was a tough game for us. We didn’t play perfectly, but we got the win and that’s the ultimate goal, and we’re just going to learn from tonight,” he said. said Thomas. “You know, we stayed there, we just stayed the course in the game. We stuck to the game plan and we got the win. We’re excited about the win, but we’re also excited to build on it and play even better tomorrow.
USA shot 49.3% from the field and 41.7% (15-36) from 3 points, but Cuba responded by shooting 51.4% from the field and 40.0% (10-25 ) to 3 points. The United States had a 42-33 advantage on the glass.
“Give Cuba a lot of credit. I thought they brought it to us, USA head coach Jim Boylen said. “They were ready to play. Their physique matched their skill level tonight. They shot the ball well, they moved the ball.
“We had a good week of preparation. We prepared for those moments, and we were organized and he (Isaiah Thomas) made a huge play, a big play,” Boylen said of Thomas’ critical 3-pointer. “I think he made some good plays at the end. Not only the 3-point shot, but the basic pitch of the drive is something we worked on for the end of the game.
Trailing 10-3, the USA was repeatedly forced to counter-attack to stay within reach of Cuba.
The Americans led 22-21 after a 3-point shot from Bowen, but Cuba finished the first quarter with a 16-5 run to take a 37-27 lead in the second quarter.
The United States opened the second stanza with a 14-4 run that tied the score at 41, all with 7:27 to play. Leading 52-51 at the end of the second quarter, the United States, after consecutive 3-point shots from Zavier Simpson (Oklahoma City Blue) and Bowen and a jumper from Will Davis II (free agent), went to the locker room in front 60-53.
Cuba, however, showed no sign of letting the United States open the game, and after beating the Americans 24-13 in the third quarter, Cuba led 77-73 with a header in the final 10 minutes of the game.
USA trailed 80-73, but 3-pointers from Bowen and Thomas were followed by a traditional three-point play from Thomas, and USA was back ahead 82-80.
Holding a narrow one-point advantage, 85-84, Johnson drained his fourth 3-pointer of the game with 2:44 remaining to extend the USA lead to 88-84. Cuba scored and made it 88-86 with 1:14 remaining, but Thomas sank a short floater down the hall to push the United States ahead 90-86 with 55 seconds remaining.
Cuba’s Jasiel Rivero, who had a game-high 34 points, again had a game-high two after scoring with 34 seconds left.
Thomas responded one last time for the United States, draining a 3-pointer with 13.3 seconds left. Rivero kept the game result unknown after scoring on offensive rebounds with 6.3 seconds left to leave the score 93-90.
Johnson was fouled on the ensuing inbound pass and after calmly sinking both free throw tries with 5.2 seconds on the clock, the Americans took the win.
“Just stick with it,” Johnson said when asked what was key to earning the win. “They gave us their best shot and sometimes teams fold in those times. I think we did a good job of not letting them get us out of our game, and we focused on what we needed to do and along the way we made big plays and got the win.
Experienced American basketball coaches Othella Harrington and Ty Ellis help Boylen.