USA U16 Men Down Argentina 90-58, Will Play Canada for Gold
The USA Basketball Men’s U16 National Team (5-0) propelled itself into the sixth-straight FIBA Americas U16 Championship gold medal game with hard-fought 90-58 semifinal victory over Argentina (2-3) on June 8 at the Guilherme Paraense Arena in Belém, Brazil.
The USA will play also unbeaten Canada (5-0) in the June 9 gold medal game, which will tip at 7:30 p.m. EDT and be streamed live online on YouTube.com/FIBA and Facebook.com/USABasketball. The game marks the third-straight gold medal clash against Canada in FIBA Americas U16 play. Canada advanced by virtue of a 97-81 win over Dominican Republic (3-2) earlier in the evening. Argentina and Dominican Republic play for bronze at 5:15 p.m. EDT.
Jabari Smith Jr. (Sandy Creek H.S./Tyrone, Ga.) shot 5-of-8 from the field and 7-of-8 from the line to finish with a team-high 18 points; Chris Livingston (Buchtel H.S./Akron, Ohio), who was perfect on his eight free throw attempts to tie a USA U16 single-game record for free throw percentage and free throws made, notched a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds; and Amari Bailey (Sierra Canyon H.S./Chatsworth, Calif.) and Jalen Duren (Roman Catholic H.S., Pa.)/New Castle, Del.) chipped in 12 points apiece.
The USA was red-hot from the line, hitting a USA U16 tournament record 82.8% (24-29 FTs) of its free throw attempts. The previous record of 80% (12-15 FTs) was set by the 2017 team.
“It was tough. Argentina is very well coached, and they play with so much passion,” said USA U16 head coach Mike Jones (DeMatha Catholic H.S., Md.), who is now 30-2 overall and 7-1 as a head coach with USA Basketball against international teams. “I could not be more proud of our guys. It was not an easy task. Argentina played so hard, they made us raise our level. But honestly, it’s great preparation for tomorrow because that’s the level we have to play at tomorrow.”
The USA never trailed, but the game was anything but easy.
Leading 22-15 after the first quarter, the USA outscored Argentina 25-17 in the second quarter for a 47-32 halftime lead.
In the first half Argentina swarmed the U.S. defensively and disrupted shots, resulting in a USA tournament low 9.1% (1-11 3pt FGs) shooting from outside the arc.
“We have so much talent on our team,” continued Jones. “Some guys can make shots; some guys are good around the basket and we just try to utilize whatever we’ve got going. I thought that today we had a decent amount of balance. We didn’t make as many shots as we had been making, but the ball flowed, and we know we’ll make some of those tomorrow.”
With outside shots still not falling, the U.S. spent the third quarter going inside, which resulted in eight points on 10 attempts from the line and 10 points in the paint as the red, white and blue expanded its lead to 68-44 at the end of the third period.
“We just pounded the ball inside,” said Livingston on how his team countered its outside shooting woes. “We ran the floor and got a lot of fast-break points, so the shooting didn’t matter in the long run.”
Argentina scored five quick points to open the fourth quarter and narrowed its deficit to 19 points, 68-48. However, a 17-1 USA run, which saw Bailey score eight points in a two-minute span, helped put the game out of reach and the North Americans cruised in for the 90-58 victory.
“It was a tough game to grind out,” said Smith. “Argentina came out, they played hard, they gave it their all. They’re a pretty good team. They were hitting a lot of shots and we were struggling on the offensive end a little bit, but as the game kept going, we picked it up.”
In all, the USA scored 50 points in the paint and notched 33 points from Argentina’s 30 turnovers. The North Americans also forced Argentina into shooting just 31.3% (20-64 FGs) from the field and outscored Argentina 36-7 points on the break.
“We defended the ball well, which we usually do,” added Smith. “I felt that we kept our composure through all the turnovers and bad slumps we had. We kept our heads up and kept going.”
USA Basketball has claimed the gold medal in all five editions of the biennial event, which was first held in 2009. With its semifinal victory over Argentina, the USA is now 30-0 in men’s FIBA Americas U16 Championship action. The USA also is 4-0 against Canada in U16 games.
“Obviously, there’s some history between these two programs at the national team level,” said Jones. “There’s been a lot of very heated contests in the past few years and I don’t expect tomorrow to be any different than that. Talent-wise, so many of their players play high school basketball in the United States, so there’s a sense of familiarity between the two teams but tomorrow is for a gold medal and we just have to be better than them.”
“Out of everybody, Canada does match up with us the best,” agreed Duren. “They’re really talented. But, I still think that we can come out on top.”
In classification games, Puerto Rico (2-3) rolled through Uruguay (1-4) 65-40 and host Brazil (2-3) clipped Mexico (0-5) 64-62. Puerto Rico will face Brazil in Sunday’s fifth place game, while the other two nations will square off in the seventh place game.
Assisting Jones and the U16 squad are high school head coaches Eric Flannery (St. Edward H.S., Ohio) and Sharman White (Pace Academy, Ga.).
Players eligible for this team must be 16 years old or younger (born on or after Jan. 1, 2003) and U.S. citizens.
USA U16 team members of note include: Bradley Beal (2009), Vernon Carey Jr. (2017), Quinn Cook (2009), Andre Drummond (2009), Terrance Ferguson (2013), Aaron Gordon (2011), Zion Harmon (2017), Markus Howard (2015), Tyus Jones (2011), Kevin Knox (2015), James Michael McAdoo (2009), Malik Newman (2013), Jahlil Okafor (2011), Jabari Parker (2011), Diamond Stone (2013), Jason Tatum (2013), Gary Trent Jr. (2015), Jarred Vanderbilt (2015) and Seventh Woods (2013).