USA’s Smothering Defense Leads to 78-48 Victory Over Panama in World Cup Qualifying Play
An outstanding smothering defensive effort and balanced scoring propelled the USA (7-1) to an important 78-48 road victory over Panama Monday night in Panama City, Panama. The win was the USA’s second in as many games in the September second-round window of FIBA World Cup Qualifying play.
“I think our greatest strength is our depth,” said USA head coach Jeff Van Gundy who is now 12-1 as head coach of USA World Cup Qualifying and the 2017 USA AmeriCup teams. “Again, we’ve pretty much done this throughout. We play 10 or 11 guys, anywhere from 10 or 11 minutes up to the low 20’s. We try to take advantage of our depth.
Taking a 2-1 lead with 7:37 remaining in the game, the USA led the rest of way.
With both teams struggling to find their shooting accuracy and finding scoring difficult, the USA got points from five different players and slipped out ahead 16-3 after Reggie Hearn (Grand Rapids Drive) drained his first of his four 3-pointers.
Although the USA shot just 33.3 percent (6-18 FGs) from the field in the first quarter, the Americans’ defense frustrated Panama into 2-of-12 shooting (16.7 percent) and forced five turnovers as the USA led 18-7 after the first 10 minutes.
“The biggest thing was coach’s game plan coming in,” said Ben Moore (Fort Wayne Mad Ants). “We threw Panama off with different sets and guarding different guys. I think coach gave us a great game plan, and we went out there and executed it. We played really hard on defense and that was our biggest emphasis of the game.”
Defense continued to dominate the day, and Panama cut the USA’s lead to 31-23 with 1:53 to play before half.
Another 3 from Hearn was followed by a basket from Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs) and the USA head to the locker room at halftime owning a 36-23 lead.
Behind points from four different players during a 10-2 run to open the third quarter, the U.S. expanded its lead to 46-25 and Panama never recovered.
Taking a comfortable 57-38 lead into the final quarter, the USA outscored Panama 16-2 as Chasson Randle (Capital City Go-Go), Hearn and Travis Trice (Milwaukee Bucks) made back-to-back-to-back 3s to balloon the USA lead to 73-40.
“It was a good game for us. We played hard as soon as the ball went up in the air from the jump,” said Heny Ellenson (Detroit Pistons). “I thought guys were unselfish. I thought we listened to the game plan well and really jumped out of the gates to start to the game, and did it again to start the second half to go on a nice little run. The way we played together unselfishly was really good tonight.”
The USA finished the night shooting 42.6 percent from the field, including 9-of-27 from 3-point. Panama was held to a cold 31.1 percent from the field and made just 5-of-30 from 3-point.
Hearn led the balanced U.S. scoring attack with 12 points, Dwayne Bacon (Charlotte Hornets) added 10 points, while Trice, Moore and Jameel Warney (Texas Legends) each accounted for eight points.
Controlling the glass with a 50-34 margin, Henry Ellenson grabbed 11 boards, Warney added eight and Derrick White (San Antonio Spurs) added six rebounds. The U.S. forced 17 Panama turnovers and the USA commited just 12.
With seven 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifying berths going to the top three finishing teams in each of the Americas second round groups and to the best fourth place team, Argentina (7-1) and the USA (7-1) after recording a pair of wins in the September Group E second-round play, are on top of the second-round Group E standings, followed by Puerto Rico (5-3) and Uruguay (5-3), with Mexico (3-5) and Panama (3-5) in fifth place. Group F standing see Canada (7-1) and Venezuela (7-1) tied for first, followed by Brazil (6-2), Domincan Republic (5-3), U.S. Virgin Islands (2-6) and Chile (1-7).
FIBA World Cup Qialifying second-round action will resume Nov. 29-Dec. 3. The USA will face a difficult task of playing road games versus Argentina on Nov. 29 and Uruguay on Dec. 2. The third and final second-round window will play out Feb. 21-24 with a pair of home games for the USA. The U.S. will host Panama on Feb. 22 and cap qualifying play versus Argentina on Feb. 25.