Jackson’s Big Night Leads U.S. over Puerto Rico in World Cup Qualifying
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As part of their preparation for Friday’s game against Puerto Rico, the USA Basketball Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team held a scrimmage against the Dominican Republic.
To say the Tuesday matchup in Miami was physical would be a major understatement.
“Our Dominican Republic scrimmage was maybe the most physical game I’ve ever been a part of,” U.S. coach Jim Boylen said.
“Coach might have told the (scrimmage) refs just to swallow the whistle,” quipped U.S. wing Justin Jackson. “It was like football out there.”
The rigid strategy clearly prepared the U.S. for its physical matchup with Puerto Rico, as the Americans won the battle of the boards and dominated from beyond the arc in Friday’s hard-fought 83-75 win in San Juan.
Jackson scored 26 points and Langston Galloway chipped in 14 of his 18 in the second half for the U.S., which outrebounded Puerto Rico 40-38 and knocked down 13-of-36 3-pointers, compared to just 4-of-18 for the hosts.
“We won the boards and we also won the 3-point line. Those are two huge things,” Boylen said.
Jackson, a former standout at North Carolina and a veteran of 255 NBA games, looked perfectly comfortable in his first senior-level FIBA game. He made 9-of-16 shots from the field, including 5-of-10 from 3-point range, while chipping in six rebounds and three assists.
His 26 points tied the single-game record for the U.S. in men’s World Cup qualifying.
“It’s a blessing to be in this situation,” Jackson said. “They pick 12 guys, and for me to be one of those, I can’t say thank you enough to Sean (Ford) and USA Basketball. For me, I just try to go out there and just help the team in whatever way I possibly (can). Tonight I just so happened to get some open looks and was able to knock them down.”
The U.S. improved to 4-0 all-time against Puerto Rico in World Cup Qualifying. One of those wins came in an earlier window of World Cup Qualifying on Feb. 24, when the U.S. won 93-76 in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. (4-1) takes the court again Monday for a road matchup vs. Cuba. Puerto Rico dropped to 2-3 in World Cup qualifying.
Following a tight first half, the U.S. compiled a 9-1 run early in the third quarter to open a double-digit advantage for the first time. Cody Demps’ 3-pointer capped the surge and Jackson added another long-range shot less than a minute later to create a 54-42 cushion.
That began a stretch of play where Jackson scored nine straight U.S. points, helping his team open a 60-46 advantage. The third period ended with Eric Mika tipping in a missed 3-pointer by Galloway just before the final buzzer, sending the U.S. ahead 66-51 going into the final frame.
The U.S. was never seriously threatened down the stretch. Puerto Rico did get within nine with about four minutes left, but Galloway knocked down a contested jumper to restore a double-digit cushion.
“We felt like if we kept coming at them, we might have (a conditioning) advantage at some point,” Jackson said. “But at the same point, they kept on coming.”
Jose Alvarado drained a long 3-pointer with 14 seconds left to get Puerto Rico within 81-75, but USA’s John Jenkins hit two free throws to ice the game.
“I thought we made the plays we had to make in the second half, without turning the ball over,” Boylen said.
The game started out tight. Though the U.S. took an early 16-8 lead on a 3-pointer by Quinn Cook, Puerto Rico controlled the next three minutes and used a 10-0 run to go ahead by a bucket. However, Jenkins’ 3-pointer in the waning seconds of the first quarter gave the U.S. a 21-20 lead after one period.
The score remained tight throughout the second quarter, as the U.S. led by as many as six in the session and held a two-point lead in the final seconds before Jordan Bell banked in a 3-pointer to create a 42-37 margin at halftime.
“Jordan Bell, the leader of our team,” Boylen said of the former Golden State Warriors forward who had seven rebounds, six assists and four blocks in this one. “His presence set the tone for the whole game and we’re thankful for him.”
The U.S. shot 7-of-18 (.390%) from 3-point range in the opening half, led by a 3-of-6 effort from Jackson. Puerto Rico made just 1-of-9 from the perimeter in the opening 20 minutes, as the team was unable to take advantage of 13 turnovers by the U.S.
“We have so much respect for this process, and we’ve very thankful to win this game,” said Boylen. “It’s an honor how we were able to come together in these 10 days and come out with this win.”