USA Basketball Men’s U16 National Team Dispatches Puerto Rico 105-54
BAHIA BLANCA, Argentina (June 10, 2015) -- Markus Howard (Findlay Prep, Nev./Chandler, Ariz.) scored a game-high 19 points to lead six U.S. scorers in double digits as the 2015 USA Men’s U16 National Team (1-0) overwhelmed Puerto Rico (0-1) 105-54 to open play at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship on Wednesday afternoon in Bahía Blanca, Argentina.
The U16 tournament serves as the Americas zone qualifier for the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championship, and the top four finishing nations from the FIBA Americas U16 Championship will earn a berth to the 2014 U17 Worlds.
All 12 members of the U.S. team got on the scoreboard and in addition to Howard’s 19 points, the USA was aided to victory by Wendell Carter Jr. (Pace Academy/Fairburn, Ga.) and Kevin Knox II (Tampa Catholic H.S./Tampa, Fla.), who scored 15 points apiece; Gary Trent Jr. (Apple Valley H.S./Apple Valley, Minn.) added 12 points; and Jordan Brown (Woodcreek H.S./ Roseville, Calif.) and Jalen Hill (Corona Centennial H.S./Corona, Calif.) chipped in 11 apiece.
Further, Jarred Vanderbilt (Victory Prep School/Houston, Texas) cleaned the glass for a game-high 10 rebounds to go with seven points and Howard passed out a game-best four assists.
“Typically our first game for us over the past couple of years is one where we struggle,” said USA head coach Don Showalter (Iowa City H.S., Iowa), who has also coached the previous three USA U16 National Teams.. “But, I thought our energy level was tremendous the whole game. I’ve always said that when our seven guys come off the bench, we don’t lose anything from what our starters give us. That was the case tonight.”
The USA led wire-to-wire as Brown scored six points in the USA’s 8-0 game-opening run. Puerto Rico fought back and a 3-pointer at the 6:05 mark brought the islanders to within two points, 12-10. However, Knox scored six-straight points, getting two from the line, a bucket off of a put-back and after grabbing a defensive rebound, sprinted up the court for another two points, to spark a 13-0 run.
Puerto Rico responded with a 5-0 spurt and closed the gap to 10 points, 25-15, but the USA finished the first quarter up 29-17.
Coming out of the break the USA turned up its defensive pressure and the result was an 11-1 run from which Puerto Rico was never able to recover. The islanders notched the game’s next five points to make it 40-23, but the USA scored the next 11 to push ahead 51-23 with 3:25 to play before halftime.
“We just knew that we had to pick up our intensity on defense and communicate more,” recalled Howard on how the U.S. was able to pull away from its first opponent. “Once we did that, we knew that we had the game sealed, because we’re all gelling together on defense and everything else just falls into place from there. Really, we just started communicating more with each other and it was a sense of having each other’s backs. Once we have that, I don’t think anyone will be able to beat us.”
At the game’s midway point the USA led 54-29 and outscored Puerto Rico 26-14 in the third quarter and 25-11 in the fourth to close the contest.
“We played well and kept our intensity level up,” said Carter, who helped the USA outscore Puerto Rico 56-20 in the paint. “We played together as one instead of being selfish. And we played great on defense, which is how we got the W.”
The North Americans scored 23 points off of 31 Puerto Rican turnovers and only allowed Puerto Rico to score 13 points of their 22 miscues. The USA outscored Puerto Rico 14-11 on second-chance points, 10-6 on the fast break and 56-25 off the bench. Further, the U.S. forced Puerto Rico into an icy 26.9 percent (21-78 FGs) from the field, while making 51.3 percent (41-80 FGs) on the offensive end.
“We played very well,” stated Knox. “We played together. We had good passes. We all played as a team. There was no selfishness. There was no one-on-one ball. It’s all of us together and I like that. I think we’re going to be able to win gold.”
Three-time defending FIBA Americas U16 Championship gold medalists, the 2015 USA U16 National Team continues preliminary play on June 11 (12:45 EDT) against Dominican Republic (1-0), followed by a June 12 (5:15 p.m. EDT) clash against Brazil (0-1).
In the other Group A game, Dominican Republic took down Brazil 66-58. In Group B, Canada (1-0) beat Venezuela (0-1) 84-55, while host Argentina tips off at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) tonight against Mexico.
Following preliminary play, teams will be seeded, and the top two teams from each group will advance to the July 13 semifinals. The third- and fourth-placed teams in each groups will play in the classification semifinals on July 13. The finals are scheduled to be played July 14.
Assisting Showalter and the 2015-16 USA Junior National Team are Miles Simon (California Supreme AAU) and Sharman White (Miller Grove H.S., Ga.).
Held every other year, the FIBA Americas U16 Championship first was contested in 2009, and under the direction of Showalter, the USA has earned the gold medal in all three editions, compiling a perfect 16-0 record overall, including today’s victory.