SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) — The U.S. remained unbeaten with a spot secured in the second round of qualifying for the 2019 Basketball World Cup, beating Puerto Rico 83-75 on Monday night.
The Americans got big shots down the stretch from Rodney Purvis and Aaron Harrison after blowing almost all of a 22-point lead and improved to 4-0. They have two games left in the first round but are guaranteed to finish among the top three in Group C and reach the second round.
Harrison led the Americans with 16 points, Larry Drew II had 14 and Purvis scored 12.
“I’m very proud of our players,” U.S. coach Jeff Van Gundy said. “Obviously we had a rough second half, but that was due to how good a team Puerto Rico is.”
Puerto Rico trailed by just one after three free throws by Gian Clavell and had a chance for the lead on its next possession, but Gary Browne missed a 3-pointer. Purvis chased down the rebound and took it the length of the court for a dunk, and after a steal by Drew, Harrison knocked down a jumper to give the U.S. a 76-71 advantage with 3:10 to play.
“They are a good team, so we knew they were going to make a run. So, we just had to stay mentally tough and figure out how to win,” Harrison said. “So, that’s what we did.”
The U.S., using a roster of G League players under Van Gundy during qualifying, won two games at the home of the Golden State Warriors’ G League affiliate during the second window of games. The Americans, the reigning Olympic and world champions, go on the road this summer for their final two first-round games, visiting Mexico and Cuba.
The U.S. was one of 10 teams to clinch second-round spots Monday, joining Spain, Argentina, Lithuania, Italy, China, New Zealand, Jordan, Lebanon and Uruguay. They joined 12 teams who had done so Sunday: 2016 Olympic silver medalist Serbia, France, Greece, Germany, Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Australia, Iran, Kazakhstan and the Philippines.
The second round begins in September. The 2019 World Cup in China will qualify seven teams for the 2020 Olympics.
Clavell scored 23 points for the Puerto Ricans, who have lost both games against the Americans but won their other two and are tied with Mexico for second in the group. Cuba is 0-4.
“We had a great second half and we fell short, but at the end of the day it was a great experience for them to go through this when we’re trying to build up a new program,” Puerto Rico coach Eddie Casiano said.