USA AmeriCup Team Earns Hard-Fought 74-66 Victory Over Host Uruguay
Trailing by as many as 11 points early in the second quarter, the USA Men’s AmeriCup Team (2-0) scratched and defended its way back into the game and went on to outscore host Uruguay (1-1) 24-16 in the fourth quarter to earn a critical 74-66 win Tuesday night in FIBA AmeriCup 2017 preliminary round play in Montevideo, Uruguay.
“I don’t think there’s any better five minutes in life than coming back into a locker room after a great road win. That sense of satisfaction - everybody contributed. That part was really good,” said USA AmeriCup head coach Jeff Van Gundy.
The win positioned the USA to claim top honors in Group C and advance to the medal round semifinals. The USA concludes play Aug. 30 facing the Dominican Republic (1-1) in a 5 p.m. (EDT) game that will be aired on ESPNU. A USA win earns the Americans a ticket into the semifinals.
With two wins posted, the challenge of winning three games in as many nights isn’t lost on the USA mentor.
“I have such a respect for the Dominican Republic because I think they are the hardest playing team that I’ve seen in FIBA basketball,” Van Gundy said of the USA's next opponent. “Each and every guy is a tremendous competitor. They have great continuity and a brotherhood that, if you’re not ready for it, they are going to take it right at you. We are going to have to be more ready than we were tonight to start the game.”
Struggling to score early, and getting outrebounded 15-10 in the game’s first 10 minutes, the U.S. fell behind Uruguay 10-2 in the game’s first three minutes, and trailed 20-11 after the first quarter.
Down 22-11, the U.S., behind Jameel Warney’s (Texas Legends) four points, mounted an 11-2 run to close the gap to 23-22. Reggie Williams (Oklahoma City Blue) scored with 3.1 seconds remaining before halftime to give the U.S. at 34-32 lead at intermission.
All tied at 50 entering the final quarter, Uruguay, playing in front of a passionate home crowd, slipped out to a 55-53 lead with 6:37 left in the game.
“I was thinking, man, we haven’t really brought it yet.,” said USA guard Reggie Hearn (Reno Bighorns) about entering the fourth quarter tied. “We knew Uruguay was going to come out and play hard on their home court. But, I did expect us to have a little bit of a lead going into the fourth, so to go into it tied up, we talked in the huddle - it is time to break away. It is time to really give everything we got to win this game and come back tomorrow to get the next one, but right then, it was time to take care of business.”
Hearn backed up the talk and took matters into his own hands. With the USA trailing 55-53, the 6-foot-4 guard scored on a baseline drive, then 26 seconds later, drained his third 3-pointer of the game to push the USA ahead, 58-55.
C.J. Williams (Texas Legends) followed-up with a 3, Hearn scored on an inside hoop, and Larry Drew II (Sioux Falls Skyforce) nailed a 3 to cap a 13-2 U.S. scoring run that left the score 66-57 with 3:07 left on the clock.
Uruguay cut the lead to 66-59, but C.J. Williams scored off an inbounds play with 1:28 remaining, then sank two free throws to up the USA lead to 70-59 with 46.4 seconds left.
Uruguay cut the USA’s lead to 70-63, but Darrun Hilliard went 4-of-4 from the foul line in the final 25 seconds to help seal the 74-66 win.
Uruguay struggled with its shooting accuracy in the game’s final 10 minutes, making just 33.3 percent of its tries from the floor, just 1-of-5 from 3, and 3-of-7 from the foul line.
“It was amazing," said Hilliard of the environment in the arena. “It probably wasn’t anything that any of us are used to, even in the difficult environments that we had in college and what we’ve seen in the NBA or wherever we were - the G League or overseas. That was probably the best you’re going to see. So, to play in that type of environment against a great team, there’s probably only a handful of things sweeter than that.”
The USA was led to the victory by a team-best 16 points from C.J. Williams, Hearn scored 15 points and Hilliard added 13 points, while Warney recorded eight points and hauled in a team-high 14 rebounds.
The USA, which shot 40.6 percent (28-69 FGs) from the floor and made 32.1 percent (9-28 3pt FGs) from 3-point, limited Uruguay to a chilly 37.1 percent accuracy from the field and just 3-of-23 shooting from 3.
Uruguay’s effort was paced by former NBA Atlanta Hawk center Esteban Batista, who recorded 22 points and 14 rebounds, and by veteran guard Jayson Granger, who added 17 points.
In Group C’s other games Tuesday, the Dominican Republic (1-1) picked up its first win after defeating Panama (0-2) 86-64.
Group B concluded its preliminary play Tuesday in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, and host Argentina improved to 3-0 after trouncing the U.S. Virgin Islands (1-2) 104-58, while host Canada (1-2) handed Venezuela (1-2) a 75-66 setback.
With the AmeriCup Group A and Group B preliminary rounds now completed, three of the four teams that will advance to the AmeriCup semifinals are known. Group A champion Mexico (3-0) will meet host and Group B number one seed Argentina (3-0) in one semifinal, while the U.S. Virgin Islands (1-2) finished in a three-way tie for second and earned the right to advance based on FIBA's three-way tie breaking formula. The U.S. Virgin Islands and the to be determined first-place finisher in Group C, which concludes play on Aug. 30, will meet in the other semifinal.
Winners of the semifinals games will advance to the Sept. 3 gold medal game and semifinals losers will square off in the bronze medal game. The semifinals and finals games will be played in Córdoba, Argentina.
Van Gundy is being assisted by current NBA G League Northern Arizona Suns head mentor Ty Ellis and veteran international coach Mo McHone.
The FIBA AmeriCup 2017, considered the FIBA Americas zone championship, will feature 12 nations from North America, Central America, the Caribbean and South America.
Córdoba, Argentina, will host the AmeriCup semifinals on Sept. 2 and the bronze and gold medal games will be held Sept. 3 (the full FIBA AmeriCup 2017 schedule and results is available to view at (usab.com/mens/americup/schedule.aspx).
A USA men’s national team last participated in the FIBA Americas Championship in 2007, when the U.S. rumbled over its opposition in Las Vegas and finished 10-0 to win gold and capture one of the FIBA Americas zone's two qualifying berths for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Overall, USA Basketball officially has fielded teams in eight FIBA Americas Championships, winning six gold (2007, 2003, 1999, 1997, 1993 and 1992) and one silver medal (1989), while compiling a 60-10 win-loss record.