USA U17 Men Pull Away In Second Half For 98-70 Win Over Lithuania To Advance U.S. To Fourth-Straight U17 Gold Medal Game
A 16-2 third-quarter run separated the 2016 USA Basketball Men’s U17 World Championship Team (6-0) from Lithuania (4-2) en route to a 98-70 semifinal victory on Friday night in Zaragoza, Spain. Five U.S. players scored in double digits, led by 16 points from Markus Howard (Findlay Prep, Nev./Chandler, Ariz.) off the bench, to launch the USA into its fourth-straight FIBA U17 World Championship gold medal game.
The USA U17 men won gold in all three previous FIBA U17 World Championships (2010, 2012 and 2014) and now stand at 29-0 all-time in U17 play.
The gold medal game will be a rematch between the USA and Turkey (5-1) in the July 3 gold medal game (3 pm EDT), which will air live on ESPNU and ESPNEWS as well as YouTube.com/FIBA. The two teams met in preliminary play on June 24, and the U.S. earned an 85-66 win. The bronze medal game will feature Lithuania against host Spain (5-1), after Turkey outlasted Spain 83-79 in overtime in the evening’s first semifinal contest.
The USA has earned three gold medals in the three U17 World Championships, the best finish for both Lithuania (2010) and Spain (2012, 2014) has been fourth place, while 2016 marks Turkey’s first time competing in the U17 Worlds.
In addition to Howard, who was 3-of-3 from beyond the arc, the USA was led by Collin Sexton (Pebblebrook H.S./Mableton, Ga.) and Gary Trent Jr. (Apple Valley H.S./Burnsville, Minn.) with 15 points apiece, Carte'Are Gordon (Webster Groves H.S./St. Louis, Mo.) scored 13 points, and Kevin Knox II (Tampa Catholic H.S./Riverview, Fla.) chipped in 10 points.
“We knew we were going to get their best shot early,” said USA U17 head coach Don Showalter (USA Basketball), who tonight upped his record with USA U16 and U17 teams to 44-0. “They were fresh, they hit a few 3s, they had some really great action on their offense that we didn’t do a very good job defending to start with. But We adjusted really, really well as the game went on. Our kids communicated with each other very well. We cut all of their screening action down, so they weren’t able to get very good shots. As the game went on we got a lot better.
“Our press has really bothered people,” added Showalter. “We put the press on, we have length and quickness that’s going to bother some people, so we really just wore them down. We can go 12 deep and our bench just wore them down.”
After a closely contested first half that ended with the Americans up 47-37, the USA’s third-quarter dominance put the game out of reach.
“We knew that we had to come out in the second half with a lot of energy and play the way that we know how to play,” said Gordon, who has shot 75.6 percent (34-45 FGs) from the field in his first six games. “And luckily we did that and we got the win. (At halftime coach) told us that we have to be pit bulls, not poodles.”
Lithuania closed to within nine points twice, the second coming on a 3-pointer at 7:53 that brought the score to 52-43. Trent answered with a 3, which put the red, white and blue up 55-43, and Lithuania was never again within single digits.
Javonte Smart (Scotlandville H.S./Baton Rouge, La.), who finished the game with nine points, got a steal and a layup and Wendell Carter Jr. (Pace Academy/Fairburn, Ga.) hit 1-of-2 from the line before Lithuania got a put back. However, that was the only bucket the Europeans managed during a 16-2 run.
After two points from the line and a cross-court lob from Sexton to Carter for a rim-rattling dunk that pushed the lead to 62-45, Troy Brown picked off a pass and scored to make it 64-45 at 4:26. The European coach called a timeout to regroup, but it wasn’t effective. The USA came out of the time out and reeled off another seven points to close the 16-2 scoring spree on top, 71-45, at 3:13.
“They are a great team,” said Howard, who comes off the bench and is the USA’s third-leading scorer through six games (12.3 ppg.). “They were here (in the semifinals) for a reason, so we didn’t want to take them lightly. They’re a great team, greatly coached, they played hard until the very end. They played very physical with us, they shot the ball very well and played very well under pressure. Hats off to them, they played a great game, but we played to the best of our abilities and pulled out the win.”
Lithuania ended its scoring drought with a field goal at 2:49, but the USA scored the third quarter’s final four points and headed into the final stanza with a 75-47 cushion.
Going up by as many as 34 points, 98-64, the U.S. cruised in for the win.
“Coach told us they’re going to come out chippy, the refs are not going to give us calls, and we know that, so just keep playing,” said Trent. “Don’t be surprised by it. Whatever happens, just go hard and keep playing hard.”
Lithuania drained a 3-pointer to start the night and led for the majority of the first quarter, which featured three lead changes and four knotted scores. After battling back and forth for most of the period and trailing 19-14, Gordon scored five points, three from the line, to pull even at 1:45. But Lithuania, which hit 11-of-13 from the line in the first 10 minutes of play, made four-straight free throws and at 1:16 was back in the lead 23-19.
Howard was fouled going to the bucket and swished in both tries at 1:02. The USA pressured the Europeans on their inbounds pass and forced a turnover. With the ball back under their own basket, Sexton inbounded to Howard, who drained a 3-pointer to give the USA a 24-23 lead with 56 seconds on the clock. Lithuania missed its next shot and Sexton got the quarter’s final basket to put the USA up 26-23 after the first quarter.
In helping the American men to a 55-37 rebounding advantage, Troy Brown (Centennial H.S./Las Vegas, Nev.) and Gordon pulled in nine boards each.
“We outrebounded them by 55-37 and obviously rebounding is one of our strengths, so we just told our guys that there’s no way that they can box you out,” said Showalter. “So, go to the glass every time, you’re going to get some offensive rebounds.”
The USA was credited for 13 steals and turned Lithuania over 26 times to outscore Lithuania 35-16 off of turnovers. The U.S. again dominated the paint for a 54-28 scoring advantage, outscored Lithuania 23-9 on second chance points, and 50-28 points off the bench.
Ignas Sartiunas was Lithuania’s top scorer with 15 points.
“They’re just like us,” said Trent in Looking ahead to Sunday’s gold medal game. “They have athletic wings, they’re pretty decent on the inside, so they’re a good all-around team. Coach said that they put a lot of money into their basketball programs and they care about basketball a lot. So, we have to come out hard and assert ourselves early and show what we can do.”
In 5th-8th classification games, Canada (5-1) defeated Australia (2-4) 96-58, while France (4-2) downed South Korea (3-3) 119-61.
Assisting Showalter and the U17 team are prep head coaches Mike Jones (DeMatha Catholic H.S., Md.) and Miles Simon (California Supreme AAU).
Athletes eligible for this team must be 17 years old or younger (born on or after 1/1/99) and U.S. citizens.
FIBA U17 World Championship for Men
First held in 2010, the FIBA U17 World Championship features the world’s top 17-year-old and younger players. FIBA currently holds U17 World Championships every two years. Under the direction of Showalter, the USA earned the gold medal in the first three editions, compiling a perfect 23-0 record overall.
In the inaugural (2010) FIBA U17 World Championship for Men, the USA captured gold with a perfect 8-0 record and Bradley Beal was tabbed MVP. In 2012, Jahlil Okafor earned MVP honors and was joined on the all-tournament team by Justise Winslow as the U.S. again captured gold. Most recently the U.S. made it three-straight golds as Malik Newman earned tournament MVP honors and Diamond Stone listed on the all-tournament team.