By USA BASKETBALL
A 15-0 run early in the third quarter was a turning point for the USA Men’s U19 Team (6-0) in a 102-67 semifinal win over Lithuania (3-3) at the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup on Saturday in Heraklion, Greece.
“We talked about having great energy from the start,” said USA head coach Bruce Weber (Kansas State). “I thought our defense was good and kind of set the tone for the whole first half. We held them to 32 (points) in the half and they’re a very good offensive team.
“We knew 3s would maybe the difference in the game. We didn’t hit many (3s) early, they just kept sagging back. We had talked about it and we knew they were going to do it, I just think guys were trying to prove things instead of moving the ball, working in, shooting in rhythm 3s.
“Kira Lewis Jr. is a veteran guard that’s been through it and he can shoot it, and he stepped up big for us. Also, our big guys, Jeremiah (Robinson-Earl) and Reggie (Perry), both of them were in double figures for rebounds, and Jeremiah had a double-double.”
The USA will meet Mali (5-1), 76-73 winners over France, in the gold medal game at 1:30 p.m. EDT Sunday.
“Mali is probably the surprise of the tournament, said Webert. “They’ve got some size, some length, they play their butts off. They got the big guy inside and it seems when they can take care of the ball they’re pretty good. We’re going to have to do a good job. It’s a match of athleticism against athleticism, and then we’ve got to stay in front of them on the dribble because they’re going to take you and get to the hoop. So, we’ve got to do a good job of staying in front of them.”
Kentucky recruiting targer Jalen Green (Prolific Prep/Fresno, Calif.) finished with 18 points and six rebounds. He was 7-for-16 from the field overall and 4-for-10 from 3-point range. He also had two steals and one assist in 23 minutes of play.
Jalen Suggs (Minnehaha Academy/Minneapolis, Minn.) added 15 points and six steals; Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (IMG Academy, Fla./Overland Park, Kan.) contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds; Kira Lewis Jr. (Alabama/Merdianville, Ala.) was 4-of-4 from the field on his way to 11 points; and Isaac Likekele (Oklahoma State/Arlington, Texas) added 11 points. Additionally, Tyrese Haliburton (Iowa State/Oshkosh, Wis.) tallied seven of the USA’s 23 assists, and Reggie Perry (Mississippi State/Thomasville, Ga.) grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds and finished with eight points.
“We knew this was a very good team,” said Suggs. “We watched them play against Serbia last night and we knew when we played them the first time they gave us some trouble, so the message today was come out and play. We knew they were going to come back better, they did more scouting, had more walkthroughs, they had more knowledge about how we play, so, today it was just going to be about who had more heart. I think we showed that today. We came out competitive as a group playing together and we go the win.”
Never trailing in the game, the USA built a 25-14 lead in the first quarter, taking advantage of its 17-8 tally on the boards. Robinson-Earl had seven points in the first quarter.
In the second period, Lithuania cut the U.S. lead to five points, 26-21 at 7:40, but the USA pushed back with eight unanswered points from four different players and led by as many as 16 points, 39-23 with 3:33 on the clock. From there Lithuania scored nine and the USA scored five points, and the Americans led 44-32 at halftime.
Ten of the USA’s 12 team members had scored by halftime, and the USA had a 31-15 rebounding lead and had forced 12 Lithuanian turnovers.
Both teams scored to start the third quarter, but then the USA, behind 10 points from Suggs, took over with a 15-0 stretch and led 61-35 after a Green 3-pointer at 6:00. Lithuania went on an 8-0 run of its own to reduce the gap to 65-46, but the USA closed the third period with a 10-2 run to take a 75-48 lead into the fourth quarter. Overall, the USA outscored Lithuania 31-16 in the third quarter.
In the final period, the USA outscored Lithuania 27-19 to earn the 102-67 win.
“It’s a nice win. Last night they (Lithuania) had a huge win over Serbia. But when you look at the minutes, they had guys that played 38, 39, 36. They had to play a lot of minutes and we thought we could wear them out and in the second half that was probably the difference in the game,” said Weber.
The USA finished the game shooting 45.1% from the field (41-91), and made a tournament-high 12 3-pointers. Holding Lithuania to 36.4% (24-66) shooting from the field and 10-of-32 from 3-point,, and won the rebounding battle 57-38. It also was impressive in turning Lithuania’s 22 turnovers into 28 points, as well as recording 50 points in the paint and 54 points off of the bench.
The USA twice beat Lithuania in 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup action, including a 102-84 preliminary round win on June 30.