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U.S. Men Fall to Brazil in Final Game of World Cup Qualifying

  • Author:
    Steve Drumwright, USA Basketball
  • Date:
    Feb 26, 2023

Facing an opponent with a rich history on the line, the USA Basketball Men’s World Cup Qualifying Team came up shy. It was a good thing there wasn’t anything at stake other than pride for the Americans.


Unable to overcome poor free-throw shooting and struggling to hit shots in the fourth quarter, the U.S. fell to Brazil 83-76 on Sunday at Ginasio Poliesportivo Arnao in Santa Cruz do Sul, Brazil. The U.S. (9-3) had clinched the top spot in Group F and a berth in the 2023 FIBA Men’s World Cup with an 88-77 win Thursday over Uruguay, while Brazil (8-4) needed a win or help to qualify.


“We are disappointed we did not win tonight,” U.S. Coach Jim Boylen said. “We are thankful that we qualified. Our guys fought. They competed and we were right there.”


Langston Galloway was the only American in double figures with 19 points, but it was the 5-of-17 shooting from the free-throw line that spelled doom for the U.S. Brazil, meanwhile, was 25-of-32 from the line. Former NBA player Bruno Caboclo had 21 points and eight rebounds, while Yago Santos had 17 points to lead Brazil.


“They hit some big shots down this stretch, they hit some big shots,” Galloway said. “They got to the free-throw line and they knocked down free throws. We missed a ton tonight.”


Now, the U.S. will await the April 29 draw for the 32-team World Cup. For the first time, the World Cup will take place in three countries: Philippines, Japan and Indonesia. FIBA has already said all U.S. games will be in the Philippines. The tournament runs Aug. 25 to Sept. 10. To qualify for the Olympics, the U.S. must finish in the top two of the seven Americas teams in the World Cup.


On a historic final full day of World Cup qualifying — with Cape Verde (African group) becoming the smallest nation to ever qualify (population 571,966) — six teams from the two groups in the Americas zone were vying for five spots.


Brazil, which has qualified for every World Cup since its inception in 1950, was in need of a sweep of the U.S. in this qualifying tournament after beating the Americans 94-79 on Nov. 11 in Washington, D.C. The Brazilians could have clinched a World Cup berth Thursday but lost at the buzzer 92-90 at home to Puerto Rico.


Joining the U.S. and Brazil as the seven teams advancing from the Americas region are Canada (Group E winner), Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Argentina was the team left on the outside of the dance after losing to the Dominicans, 79-75.


A Jay Huff dunk, on a lob from Galloway, just 2 minutes, 30 seconds into the game put the U.S. up 8-4, already surpassing the seven points the Americans scored in the first quarter vs. Uruguay on Thursday. Despite the improved start, the U.S. trailed 22-16 at the end of the opening 10 minutes after Yago Santos hit a 3-pointer to close the quarter.


Brazil exploited the interior of the U.S. defense, getting a handful of lobs and layins, with Caboclo the primary beneficiary. Brazil led by as much as 11 points at 27-16 in the second quarter. After Brazil scored five points in the opening 36 seconds, the U.S. clamped down and held the hosts scoreless for almost four minutes but couldn’t capitalize offensively against the Brazilian zone.


It was a 39-35 Brazil edge at halftime as neither team found a decisive advantage.


“We started off a little sluggish again and then we were able to get back in the game,” Boylen said. “We came out of halftime I thought prepared again and took the lead. This (international) game is so physical. There's so many 50-50 balls, 50-50 calls, but they made some timely shots. I thought we missed some timely shots and that's sometimes how games are decided.”


As it did against Uruguay, the U.S. started the second half strong, opening with a 7-2 run. The teams exchanged 3-pointers in a nice flurry early in the third quarter before things settled down. Still, Brazil held a 62-54 lead entering the final 10 minutes.


But Brazil, playing in front of a very upbeat crowd from the opening tip despite the pressure to not miss the World Cup for the first time, was the better team in the fourth quarter. Leonardo Meindl hit a 3-pointer on the opening possession and restored Brazil’s biggest lead of the game at 65-54. The Americans made a couple of runs, but their 9-of-22 shooting in the fourth quarter — including 2-of-12 on 3-pointers — couldn’t ruin the Brazilian party. Brazil was 10-of-12 from the free-throw line in the final quarter.


“We came together in a short time and found a way to battle,” Galloway said. “Like coach said, I've enjoyed the hell out of this experience. This has been a bit one of one hell of a ride and I'm just thankful, thankful to be a part of this. I wouldn't want to be anywhere in the world but right here playing with USA Basketball.”

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