Falling into a 21-point hole in the first quarter, the USA (4-1) fought back to within two points but Was unable to get over the hump as the Americans dropped their first FIBA AmericasWorld Cup Qualifying game to Mexico (3-2) 78-70 in front of a packed house and vocal home crowd Thursday evening in Mexico City, Mexico.
Marcus Thornton (Canton Charge) led four U.S. scorers in double digits with 14 points; Xavier Munford (Wisconsin Herd) scored 11 points and dished out five assists; and Reggie Hearn (Grand Rapids Drive) and David Stockton (Stockton Kings) chipped in 10 points apiece.
“Mexico dominated us from the start and that’s on me,” said USA head coach Jeff Van Gundy. “We were not ready to compete at the level Mexico did. Give them all the credit, they played a great, great game. In the second half we competed at a high level and that high level got us back in the game, but we just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Mexico sprinted out to an 18-0 lead as the U.S. missed it first nine shots and after the first 10 minutes the USA had dug itself into a huge hole, trailing 31-10.
In the decisive opening quarter the USA managed to make just 3-of-18 shots, while Mexico made 9-of-15 shots.
Trailing 33-10 after Mexico put the first two points of the second quarter on the scoreboard, the Americans, behind Munford’s seven points, posted a 13-2 run to cut the gap to 35-23 with 5:57 to play before half.
Mexico turned back the USA charge and outscored the U.S. 10-5 to take 45-28 lead at halftime.
Down 52-36 with under five minutes to play in the third period, Alex Caruso(Los Angeles Lakers) made a 3 and Thomas added back-to-back 3s as the USA went on a 13-2 scoring run to cut the deficit to two points, 53-51. Mexico’s Gabriel Giron scored with :02 remining in the third and Mexico carried a 55-51 lead into the fourth.
“Yeah, for sure, for sure,” said Thornton about the USA regaining the momentum in the third quarter. “I thought we had a great momentum swing right there, we started stringing together stops, which is really the reason we were able to get into our offense and make some shots and get it going a little bit. That was good going into the fourth quarter ,but it’s all about getting stops.”
The USA closed to within two early in the fourth, but Mexico created some breathing room and then made 6-of-8 free throws in the final 1:07 to seal the win.
Mexico’s Francisco Cruzled all scorers in the game with 24 points, and Orlando Mendezadded 20 points.
The USA converted on 37.7 percent (26-69 FGs) from the field, while Mexico shot 43.3 percent (26-60 FGs), including an even 40.0 percent (10-25 3pt FGs) from behind the line. Mexico also owned an advantage at the foul line, making 16-of-24 charity tries compared to 9-of-15 shooting by the USA from the line
The USA will complete FIBA Americas World Cup Qualifying first-round facing Cuba on July 1 in Havana.
“Cuba played a really good road game tonight, they lost by four (84-80) at Puerto Rico which is a heck of a performance. They’re big and strong and physical, and we’re going to have to play a lot better. You don’t win on the road playing a partial game, you’ve got to play the whole game.
In today’s other Group C game, Puerto Rico (3-2) edged Cuba 84-80. Group A saw Argentina (4-1) defeat Panama (2-3) 87-62 and Uruguay (4-1) beat Paraguay (0-5) 58-49, and in Group D the U.S. Virgin Islands (2-3) earned an 84-74 victory over Bahamas (0-5).
NBA G League Erie Bayhawks head coach Josh Longstaff and former Georgetown University coach John Thompson IIIare serving as USA assistant coaches.
Standing 4-1 and atop of the Group C first-round standings, the USA is already assured of being one of the three teams from its group to advance to the FIBA World Cup Qualifying second round. Mexico and Puerto Rico are both 3-2 and will also advance on into the second round from Group C.
After completion of the first round of FIBA World Cup Qualifying, the top three finishing teams in each of the four, Americas first-round groups advance to the second round. The three advancing teams from Group A and Group C will form Group E, while the top three finishers from Group B and Group D will form Group F. The three second-round windows of competition will take place Sept. 13-17, 2018; Nov. 29-Dec. 3, 2018; and Feb. 21-25, 2019.
Following completion of the Americas second-round games, seven teams will qualify out of the zone for the 2019 FIBA World Cup, including the top three finishing teams from second-round Group E and Group F, and the best fourth placed team between Group E and Group F.
Under FIBA’s new competition system, a total of 80 national teams from FIBA’s four regions of Africa, Americas, Asia (which now includes Oceania) and Europe are competing in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Qualifiers over 15 months looking to earn a qualifying berth in the 32-team 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup competition that will be held Aug. 31-Sept. 15 in China.