USA U21 Men Rebound To Take 99-79 Victory Over Puerto Rico
Playing for pride with the gold medal out of reach, the 2005 USA U21 World Championship Team (6-1) ran out to a 60-35 halftime lead before posting a 99-79 victory over Puerto Rico (3-4) on Saturday afternoon at the 2005 FIBA U21 World Championship in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Behind a combined 33 points from Justin Gray (Wake Forest / Charlotte, N.C.) and Allan Ray (Villanova / Bronx, N.Y.), the USA improved its record to a tournament second best 6-1.
The U.S. will face in Sunday's fifth place game, scheduled for 3:15 p.m. (EDT), host Argentina, which downed Slovenia (2-5) 70-43 in today's final game. Puerto Rico will see Slovenia in the seventh place game. The gold medal game will feature Lithuania (6-1), which bested Australia (6-1) 96-73 tonight, against Greece (6-1), which downed Canada (3-4) 74-61 in today's first medal semifinal.
"I thought that the biggest message that we delivered was that they're big boys," said USA and Saint Joseph's University head coach Phil Martelli. "Everybody was responsible for us losing yesterday. Players, coaches, everybody had a hand in that. It's human nature, but no one feels sorry for you. Even though you think that they should feel sorry for you. We went back to the method we used in Dallas. We asked for maximum effort. We told them that there would be a constant rotation of players. And the second quarter was the difference. The second half was an exercise in futility and it's a shame that guys don't grasp the idea that every opportunity should be maximized."
"It was a great game. A good bounce-back game for us after losing to Canada yesterday," said Ray. "It showed how much pride we have in USA Basketball. After losing yesterday's game, coming out and being able to play hard today against Puerto Rico, that says a lot."
It took the first quarter, which saw seven lead changes and three knotted scores, for the USA to shake off the disappointment of last night's quarterfinal loss. Neither team grabbed more than a three-point lead and a 3-pointer by the islanders' Alex Galindo ended the quarter with the teams tied up 21-21.
After shooting just 31.9 percent (8-21 FGs) in the opening stanza, the U.S. came out on fire in the second and shot a much-improved 51.9 percent (14-27 FGs). Receiving nine consecutive points from four different players, the U.S. took the lead for good, 30-21, with 7:28 to go in the half. It all began with a Rudy Gay (Connecticut / Baltimore, Md.) steal and pass to Glen Davis (Louisiana State / Baton Rouge, La.) at 9:44 and was capped by a Justin Gray steal, which led to a Ray layup on an inbounds pass at 7:28.
At 4:23 the USA's lead was still nine points, 38-29, when Rajon Rondo (Kentucky / Louisville, Ky.) sparked a 7-0 run with a 3-pointer at 4:10. Puerto Rico scored at 2:57 to make it a 14-point game, 45-31, but a 15-4 scoring spree, which included four 3-pointers, closed the half with the United States in command 60-35. Justin Gray, who made a free throw at 1:44, scored the USA's final 10 points of the period following a trio of treys, all assisted by Rondo. In all, the USA outmatched Puerto Rico 39-14 in the second 10 minutes of play.
The U.S. shooting went cold again at the start of the second half and Puerto Rico managed to cut it to 11 points, 63-52, with 14:53 to play in the game. However, the young Americans' fierce determination and defensive pressure, along with another Rondo-assisted Justin Gray three, started an 8-3 run and by 2:17 the gap had widened to 74-57. Taj Gray (Oklahoma / Wichita, Kan.) capped the third period on a 7-3 spurt, five points of which came from the line, and by the buzzer the score stood at 81-60, USA.
The North Americans' lead was never seriously threatened in the final stanza as the U.S. cruised in for the win.
In addition to 17 points from Ray and 16 from Justin Gray, the USA's winning effort was bolstered by nine points apiece from Nick Fazekas (Nevada / Arvada, Colo.) and Taj Gray; while Mardy Collins (Temple / Philadelphia, Pa.), Gay and Terrence Roberts (Syracuse / Jersey City, N.J.) each tossed in eight points. Fazekas and Ray grabbed nine and eight rebounds, respectively, Rondo dished out seven of the USA's 20 assists.
Northeastern University (Mass.) guard Jose Barea had a game-high 23 points.
Acting as Martelli's assistants are collegiate head coaches Dennis Felton from the University of Georgia and James ‘Bruiser' Flint from Drexel University (Pa.).