TORONTO, Canada – Outscoring Venezuela (0-1) 52-21 in the second half, the U.S. Pan American Men’s Basketball Team behind its veteran players overcame a 41-33 halftime deficit to claim an 85-62 win in its preliminary round opener at the Pan American Games Tuesday night in Toronto, Canada.
“Well it was a total tale of two halves,” said USA and Gonzaga University head coach Mark Few. “We were absolutely awful in the first half. We didn’t do anything on offense, we didn’t play together, we didn’t run anything. We kind of let their physicality just push us out and then our answer was either to take a tough shot or drive in there and miss a bunny. Then we compounded it with some silly turnovers and a couple of defensive letdowns.
“But to their credit, they came out after halftime and played probably as good of a half as we’ve played counting our two scrimmages and even some of the things we did back in the states.”
It was the veteran players who led the Americans, who feature seven collegians and five professional players on their roster, to the win.
Thirty-five year old Damien Wilkins (Indios de Mayagüez, Puerto Rico/Orlando, Fla.) led the USA offense with a game-high 21 points, while also adding 10 rebounds, including seven offensive boards. Twenty-six year old Anthony Randolph (Lokomotiv-Kuban, Russia/ Pasadena, Calif.) contributed 16 points and six rebounds, and 30 year old Bobby Brown (Dongguan Leopards, China/Los Angeles, Calif.) scored all 12 of his points in the second half.
“Yeah, I think it felt good for everyone to get that first one out of the way,” said Wilkins. “Once we settled in, relaxed and played basketball the right way, we were good. I think that first half was indicative of our youth a little bit because they sped us up and we gave into it as opposed to saying ‘okay that’s how they want to play, let’s settle down.’ Most importantly, we got better with each quarter and we’ve got 16 quarters to go out here and we’ve got to keep getting better.”
It truly was a game of two halves.
The U.S. jumped out to 12-7 and 16-10 leads in the first stanza, but Venezuela got on track and after the first quarter buzzer sounded the two teams were deadlocked 18 all.
Venezuela outscored the USA 23-14 in the second quarter to exit the court at halftime owning all the momentum and a 41-33 lead.
In the game’s first two quarters the USA scored 33 points, while shooting just 28.1 percent from the field (9-32 FGs), 20.0 percent from 3-point (2-10 3pt FGs), while committing eight turnovers.
Venezuela meanwhile, scored 41 points, shot 44.8 percent (13-29 FGs) from the field, 40.0 percent from 3-point (4-10 3pt FGs), and turned the ball over seven times.
Regrouping at halftime, the USA squad came out reenergized and a different team.
“To attack. We needed to attack,” said Few of what he told his team at halftime. “It was just kind of a soft press, but then also after we attacked to get into our flow, and get into all the early offensive stuff we’ve been working on for the time we’ve been together practicing, which has been short, but we have been working on that a lot.
“And then Bobby (Brown) got going. He played horrible in the first half and fantastic in the second half,” added Few.
Reeling off the first six points of the third quarter, the USA quickly cut Venezuela’s lead to 46-45 after Randolph scored with 4:10 remaining in the period. Brown drained his only 3 of the game on the following possession and the USA took the lead 48-46.
Venezuela tied the game 48-48, but Brown countered at the other end with an old fashioned 3-point play and with 2:36 left in the third quarter the U.S. led 51-48. The Americans outscored Venezuela 8-5 over the period’s final minutes to take a 59-53 lead into the game’s final 10 minutes.
Venezuela scored first to cut the gap to 59-55, but the USA, getting 11 points from Wilkins, posted a game sealing 15-0 run to take control 74-55 with 4:39 left in the game.
“He’s kind of the heart and soul of our team,” stated Few about Wilkins. “I think the guys look to him for leadership; they look to him for how he responds when we hit tough times like this. He was down there digging out offensive rebounds, getting us extras baskets, getting us those ugly ones around the hoop. I think that’s a source of inspiration, especially for our young guys.”
The USA’s shooting accuracy warmed in the second half to 63.3 percent (19-30 FGs), while Venezuela’s dipped to 26.6 percent (8-30 FGs).
“It wasn’t so much about getting into the rhythm offensively, it was more we started executing defensively,” said Wilkins. “We started getting stops and we started doing what we should have been doing after we got the stops. And that’s attacking, and attacking early, moving the ball and moving bodies. After that we pretty much got what we wanted.”
Outrebounding Venezuela 48 to 30, Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona/Claremont, N.H.) led the USA charge on the glass grabbing a game-best 13 boards, including four offensive.
In Tuesday’s other preliminary round play, Brazil (1-0) pounded Puerto Rico (0-1) 92-59; Mexico (1-0) nipped Argentina (0-1) in overtime 86-84, and host Canada (1-0) downed Dominican Republic (0-1) 105-88.
Next up for the USA is a clash against Puerto Rico (0-1) on Wednesday at 9 p.m. EDT. The game is slated to be broadcast live on ESPN2.
“Just pressing, and zone, and trying to muck it up almost like what we saw today. Taking us out of our rhythm on offense and forcing you to make feel plays and basketball plays. We’ll have to do that and we’ll have to guard Barea (Jose Juan Barea) and the ball screen. We’re going to get him over, over and over in the ball screen,” said Few of what he expects from Puerto Rico, which is coached by University of Louisville mentor Rick Pitino.
Assisting Few with the 2015 U.S. Pan American Men’s Basketball Team is University of Colorado’s Tad Boyle and longtime NBA coach Mike Brown.
The 2015 Pan American Games men’s basketball competition is taking place July 21-25 in Toronto, Canada. The U.S. men will continue Group A preliminary round play on July 22 versus Puerto Rico (9 p.m. EDT) in a game broadcast by ESPN2. The USA concludes its preliminary play against Brazil on July 23 (9 [.m. EDT).
The top two teams from each preliminary-round group will advance to the medal-round semifinals on July 24, while the third and fourth-placed teams will play for fifth-eighth places. The semifinal winners will compete for the gold medal on July 25, and the semifinal losers will play for bronze.
Overall, the Americans have now compiled an 88-15 record and captured eight gold medals, three silver medals and two bronze medals.