Norris Cole Delivers Winning Shot In Dramatic U.S. AmeriCup Win
Norris Cole had the ball in his hands at just the perfect time.
Staring down a one-point U.S. deficit in the final seconds of an AmeriCup quarterfinal battle against Puerto Rico, Cole drove toward the hoop and delivered the game-winning basket to send the U.S. to Saturday’s semifinal round with an 85-84 victory.
Cole, a 6-foot-2 guard who has played for three NBA teams and is playing on his first USA Basketball team this week, pumped his arms in celebration following the shot.
“I just wanted to make a play for our team,” Cole said after the game. “Moments like that, everybody dreams of.”
The one-point win gave the U.S. its third straight victory at Geraldão Arena in Recife, Brazil, and kept the defending champions in the chase for an eighth AmeriCup title.
If the Americans win in Saturday’s semifinal, they’ll play for gold in Sunday’s medal round.
“Every game is going to get harder,” U.S. head coach Alex Jenson said.
After being held to zero points in the first half due to early foul trouble, Cole finished with a game-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting.
“Norris was obviously one of our leaders tonight,” Jenson said. “He just kept playing.”
Cole had plenty of help. Jeremy Pargo added 15 points, including hitting the team’s first 3-pointer in the opening quarter when Puerto Rico’s physical defense limited opportunities for the Americans to get good looks from deep.
Zylan Cheatham had 11 points and Stephen Zimmerman finished with 10.
Gary Clark added team-highs with seven rebounds and six assists.
Cole’s third 3-pointer of the game with 2:05 remaining put the U.S. in front, 82-76, but Puerto Rico stormed back in the final minutes. Following a basket by Tremont Waters with 6.1 seconds remaining, the U.S. trailed, 84-83.
The next play was drawn up for Cole. Moving against Puerto Rico’s Justin Reyes, Cole put up a shot from the edge of the paint. The ball went in and the U.S. had a dramatic victory in a game in which it had trailed by 10 points.
Waters, one of two Puerto Rico players with 16 points, missed a desperate 3-pointer as time expired. Ethan Thompson also scored 16. Waters, who played collegiately at LSU, had a game-high 12 assists.
Powering up its inside game, Puerto Rico went ahead by 10 points in the opening five minutes of the first quarter. Ismael Romero had a block at one end of the court, then sprinted to the other end for a layup that gave Puerto Rico its first 10-point lead.
“We’re fortunate to win, but a lot of credit to them (Puerto Rico),” Jenson said, noting that the U.S. gave up 15 points in the game’s final five minutes. “They were very well prepared…fortunately we had guys like Norris who had to make some really tough plays to help us win, but hopefully it’s a good lesson for us moving forward.”
The U.S., which had hit 30 3-pointers in its previous two wins against Panama and Venezuela in group play, struggled to find open shots early. Eventually they opened up, and the U.S. drilled 12 3-pointers.
“We have to continue to get better,” Jenson said. “There’s another level that we can get to.”
Paul D Bowker is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.