On an evening when Brazil jammed up the USA’s powerful inside game, Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon knocked down 5-of-9 three-point attempts as the USA U19 World Championship Team battled Brazil evenly for the game’s first two quarters before exploding in the second half and earning an impressive 91-66 victory in Prague, Czech Republic.
“I just have to thank my teammates – Marcus, and all the other guards, Elfrid (Payton), they did a great job of drawing the defense and kicking it to me and all I had to do really was just catch and shoot,” remarked Sulaimon. “We’re all close and they always tell me to shoot it with confidence, they uplift me, so even when I miss a couple of shots they always encourage me to shoot again. With their confidence behind me, I just shot it with confidence and I was very fortunate tonight they went in.”
With the win, the USA improved to 4-0 and remained on top of the second round group standings, tied with 4-0 Serbia. The Americans face Australia on Tuesday (2:15 p.m. EDT), then on July 3 will face 2011 U19 World Championship silver medalist and Group C No. 1 seed Serbia (2:15 p.m. EDT).
“I’m hoping we can learn from it because I didn’t think our energy level was even remotely close in the first half to what it had been in the first three games,” said USA and University of Florida mentor Billy Donovan. “Hopefully our guys understand you have a half or game like that going forward you could be eliminated pretty quickly. We happen to be better than Brazil so we were able to maybe get away with a sluggish half, only being up by six. But I was much more pleased in the second half. I thought we played with really good energy and enthusiasm and excitement.”
Only leading 40-34 at half, Brazil opened the third quarter with a hoop to cut the gap to four points, 40-36. As had been the case in its first three games, but not in the first 20 minutes of its second round game against Brazil, the U.S. cranked up the defensive intensity, found its defensive focus, and ripped off 18 straight points to take control 58-36. The run featured scoring from five different USA players, with Sulaimon draining a pair of three-pointers and Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) contributing four points.
From there the USA marched to a 69-48 lead after three quarters, and on to the eventual 91-66 win.
“We were shooting from the outside poorly and they were sagging off on to our big men so we couldn’t get them the ball so I just decided to put my head down and drive and just be more of an attacker and more the aggressor. I was trying to get into the lane and create something for my teammates,” said Smart, a sophomore guard at Oklahoma State who earned 2013 Big 12 Conference Player of the Year.
Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee) scored the USA’s first five points to help the U.S. to a quick start, but Brazil remained within reach and handled the U.S. press. The U.S. led 20-17 after the game’s first quarter, and opened the second stanza with a 13-4 run during which Sulaimon hit three consecutive 3-point tries.
With the U.S. leading 33-21, Brazil battled back and scored eight straight to cut the lead to two, and at halftime the U.S. lead was just six, 40-34.
While Sulaimon was the USA’s high scorer with 15 points, Aaron Gordon (Archbishop Mitty H.S.) had an impressive stat line of 14 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals. Justise Winslow (St. Johns H.S.) tossed in 11 points, and Smart also posted a double-double recording 10 points and 10 rebounds to go along with four assists.
“They were really packing it in and I think we had a hard time getting the ball inside, we turned it over quite a bit,” said Donovan. “I thought our guys got a little bit frustrated with themselves, they knew they weren’t playing well and I think that bothered them a little bit. There’s a lot to learn from this. When you’re in a tournament like this and you’re going to be playing nine games in 11 days, every game is not going to be perfect and I think it’s how well you learn and respond from some of these situations.”
The U.S. shot a frigid 34.1 percent from the field in the first half, and Brazil’s shooting wasn’t much better at 35.5 percent. The U.S. shooting warmed in the second half and the Americans finished shooting 45.5 percent and Brazil finished making 34.8 percent of its tries.
Forcing Brazil into 22 turnovers that resulted in 19 points for the U.S., the USA also outrebounded Brazil 50-44.