Scoring first and never trailing, the USA Men’s U19 World Cup Team (3-0) pulled away in the second half for a 87-58 victory over Senegal (0-3) on Tuesday afternoon in Heraklion, Greece. With the win, the USA earned the No. 1 seed out of Group A and will face Latvia (0-3), the fourth-placed team out of Group B, in the July 3 round of 16 (6:15 a.m. EDT).
"Latvia is a little bit like Lithuania without maybe that really good pro guard that Lithuania has," said USA head coach Bruce Weber about the USA's next opponent.
"They're very well-schooled, a typical European team. The Canadian coach told me 'they run pretty basketball,' so it’s that pass, cut, flip handoffs, get you moving and trying to get you to screw up. So hopefully we’ll be a little more locked in at the start of the game defending them. We should have the advantage athletically, kind of what we’ve had in some of the other games, maybe not today, but in the other games."
The USA’s balanced scoring attack versus Senegal featured six players who scored in double digits, including a game-high 14 points from Jalen Green (Prolific Prep/Fresno, Calif.) and Jalen Suggs (Minnehaha Academy/Minneapolis, Minn.). Trevion Williams (Purdue/Chicago, Ill.) scored 11 points and Isaac Likekele (Oklahoma State/Arlington, Texas), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (IMG Academy, Fla./Overland Park, Kan.) and Ziaire Williams (Notre Dame H.S./Sherman Oaks, Calif.) chipped in 10 points apiece.
"I tried to focus on just having fun," said Suggs. "I talked with my parents, I talked with the coaching staff, JG (Jalen Green) and a couple of people back home and that’s one thing they said, they wanted to me smile more. You don’t look like your enjoying playing the game and I really sat back and reflected on that and it was the truth. I was kind of putting a lot of pressure on myself, taking the game a little too seriously. I'm out here in Greece playing basketball for my country, and there’s really nothing better than that.
"So I came out here today trying to enjoy the game, just have fun, be me and it showed. I thought I played real well. I’m happy with my performance and the win and I’m just looking to build on it and grow."
Scottie Barnes (University School/West Palm Beach, Fla.) and Kira Lewis Jr. (Alabama/Meridianville, Ala.) dished out five assists apiece as the USA finished with 28 dimes on 35 field goals.
Reggie Perry (Mississippi State/Thomasville, Ga.) narrowly missed out on a double-double after scoring nine points and grabbing eight boards.
"Since the time we started this, Jalen (Suggs) hasn’t made shots and we all know he can shoot the basketball," said Weber. "So it was good for him to get a couple of open looks and make them and make him feel better. He’s an elite defender, an elite athlete, and we’re asking him a lot – pressure the ball, be on the point guard, and he’s trying to figure it and each day get a little better. He got a little better today. I thought Jeremiah (Robinson-Earl) in our last game got a little better, so each day if we get a little better it’s good.
"Our three points guards, who are our veterans, you look at their assists to turnovers and its 12-to-2 between those three guys, between Issac (Likekele), Tyrese (Haliburton) and Kiri (Lewis Jr.). So, that’s good for us. And then we have great depth. We had six guys score in double figures and then one with 9 (points), so we’ve got a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things. When we move the ball we’re pretty good because we play our butts off, we defend with high energy and have a lot of people come at you. As long as we share the ball and play the right way we’re a pretty good team."
Following the preliminary round, all teams will advance to the round of 16 on July 3. The winners of the round of 16 will advance to the medal quarterfinals on July 5, and the losers will play out for ninth-16th places. The semifinals will be played on July 6, and the gold and bronze medal games on July 7.
Cade Cunningham (Montverde Academy, Fla./Arlington, Texas) slammed home a dunk with 6:21 remaining in the first quarter to break a 7-7 tie and give the Americans a lead they kept for the remainder of the contest. However, Senegal was hard to shake and at the end of the first quarter the USA’s lead was just five points, 23-18.
The U.S. outscored Senegal 24-17 in the second period for a little more breathing room and took a 47-35 advantage into the locker room.
Senegal opened the second half on a 6-0 run, which narrowed the USA’s lead to 47-41.
Cunningham grabbed an offensive board after a Suggs missed free throw and deposited it for two points at 7:45 for the USA’s first points of the second half. Both teams struggled to score until Suggs drained a 3 at 6:07 that gave the USA a 52-41 lead. From there, the USA’s advantage never fell below double digits as the U.S. outscored Senegal 12-4 over the remainder of the third to take a 64-45 advantage into the fourth quarter.
The Americans outscored Senegal 23-13 in the final stanza for the 87-58 final.
"I think mentally our guys thought it was going to be easy and it was a little tougher than they thought," added Weber. "Senegal was big. They block shots, they made it very tough to get easy ones and I thought our bench was the key at the end of the half, end of the third quarter and into the start of the fourth, they just gave us some better energy and just made some nice plays."
The USA shot 44.9% (35-78 FGs) from the floor, while limiting Senegal to just 29.3% (24-82 FGs) shooting. Additionally, the Americans outpaced the Senegalese 20-9 points off of turnovers, 36-16 points in transition, 56-38 points in the paint and 48-23 points off the bench.
Senegal did outrebound the U.S. by a 59-47 margin, which included 31 offensive rebounds.
New Zealand (2-1) upset Lithuania (1-2) 77-75 to finish second in Group A.
In other games today, Canada (2-1) slipped past Latvia (0-2) 78-76; Mali (2-1) was stunned by Australia (2-1) 82-79 to cause a three-way ties in Group B; China (1-2) fought its way to its first victory downing Puerto Rico (0-3) 99-94; and Serbia (2-1) defeated France (2-1) 85-76 to take first in Group D. Argentina (3-0) edged host Greece (1-2) 73-58 to earn Group C's top spot, and Russia (2-1) defeated Philippines (0-3) 92-64 and finished second in the group.
The USA’s assistant coaches are Mike Hopkins (Washington) and LeVelle Moton (North Carolina Central).