By USA BASKETBALL
A little more than 24 hours after making the more than 6,700 mile trip from Colorado Springs, Colorado, to Crete, Greece, the USA Basketball Men’s U19 World Cup Team recorded a 72-58 victory over Greece in its debut international game on Wednesday night in Heraklion, Greece.
The USA faced Greece’s U19 World Cup Team in exhibition play. The USA never trailed, and owned an 18 point lead in the third quarter and a 24 point lead in the fourth, while the USA defense paved the way to a 72-58 victory.
In a game in which all 12 players saw a minimum of 12 minutes each, Cade Cunningham (Montverde Academy, Fla./Arlington, Texas) led the USA offense with 16 points on sizzling 7-of-9 shooting from the field (2-2 from 3-point). Cunningham , a major UK recruiting target, also had four rebounds, four steals and three assists.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (IMG Academy, Fla./Overland Park, Kan.) recorded a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds, while Jalen Green (Prolific Prep/Fresno, Calif.) and Jalen Suggs (Minnehaha Academy/Minneapolis, Minn.) each tossed in nine points. Green, another major UK target, was 4-for-9 from the field and had four rebounds and four steals in 22 minutes.
Reggie Perry (Mississippi State/Thomasville, Ga.) recorded eight points and five rebounds and Trevion Williams (Purdue/Chicago, Ill.) finished the night with eight points and nine rebounds.
“I was excited for the guys and the opportunity,” said USA head coach Bruce Weber about his USA team having the opportunity to play an international exhibition game. “I was happy because it was a long trip yesterday, it was over a 24 hour trip and we got here and we practiced a little bit, and they dealt with that. They toughed it out, then we practiced again this morning.
“I thought we came out with great energy. Obviously we had great starts each quarter, we’ve just got to finish the quarters. I thought some of the guys did a better job in the second half after struggling in the first half. For some the physicality of the game, even for me to see it and deal with it and understand it, I thought we did a good job. But from the beginning we told our players that our defense has got to dictate how we play and Greece had 23 turnovers. We had 16 steals that led to a lot of easy hoops. We’ll get better offensively, it’s really only four days that we’ve been all together as a group so we’ll get better on the offensive end as we move forward.”
The USA jumped out to 9-1 lead and never looked back. Leading 16-9, Greece tallied the opening quarter’s final five points to close the gap to two points, 16-14. The Americans took control with a 19-3 scoring run to open the second quarter and ballooned its lead to 36-17 with 3:52 left before halftime. Greece countered with an 8-0 run to end the quarter, however, and at halftime the USA led 36-25.
Owning a 42-34 lead with 6:28 to play in the third period, the USA posted 10 straight points to grab a 52-34 advantge. But once again Greece closed strong, and scored the quarter’s final seven points to cut the U.S. advantage to 52-41.
Regaining control in the fourth through a menacing press defense, the USA added 13 straight points, including a pair of emphatic dunks by Green, to take a 65-41 lead and seal the 72-58 victory.
“I think the game was good for the team and helps brings us together a little bit more especially after the long flights, the long trip over here,” said Cunningham. “It’s a good win for us and I think it will help us in the long run. It’s a long tournament so it was good to get a good little exhibition game in and come together as a team.
“Throughout the whole training camp, Coach Weber and all the other coaches preached defense, so coming and playing in the first game and making that a focus was big for us and I think it will help us throughout the tournament,” added Cunningham
Although the USA shot just 39.2 percent from the field and was 4-off-22 from 3-point, the USA defense forced Greece into frigid 30.9 percent shooting from the floor and only 6-of-22 from 3-point.
The U.S. owned a 51-41 rebounding advantage and forced Greece into 23 turnovers that were converted into 30 points.
The USA will meet medal favorite Serbia in its second and final exhibition game on Thursday. The United States is seeking its third gold medal in the last four FIBA U19 World Cups at the June 29-July 7 FIBA U19 World Cup for Men that is being held in Heraklino.
“I think we did really well. It was a learning experience for us, we had two scrimmages in Colorado that we saw how great offensively we are, but we need to be solid on defense,” said Robinson-Earl. “We did really well on the defensive end today, it was more of just finishing the game, and finishing quarters and halftime. I feel like we’re looking really good, and the trip is making us bond together.
“Everybody should benefit from these exhibition games. I feel like I do at least, because it gets us acclimated to the area we’re in and it was a long trip coming here to Greece. So it was good to just get an exhibition game in, see where we’re at, see what we can do better and get our bodies a good feel for what we need to work on.”
Following the preliminary round, all 16 teams will be seeded according to group play results and will advance to the July 3 round of 16. Winners will advance to the July 5 medal quarterfinals, while the remaining teams will continue playing out for classification. The medal semifinals will be held July 6, and the gold and bronze medal games are slated for July 7.