It was mission accomplished for the USA Junior National Team Saturday as they defeated the World Select Team 84-73 at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland. The win ends a two-year draught for a USA squad that was desperate to reestablish its dominance at the event.
USA’s pressure defense was ultimately too much for the World Team to overcome, as it led to some untimely turnovers down the stretch that helped seal the victory. The World Select Team was clearly flustered by the pestering defense of the USA’s long-armed wingmen Kelly Oubre and Justise Winslow, who contributed 14 points and 16 points respectively and helped force 22 turnovers.
“This year, we tried to prepare for a little bit of everything, so putting in pressure, putting in zones for ourselves to be able to practice against really helped us,” USA Head Coach Mike Jones said. “We saw that we were effective at it, and we really emphasized the pressure, man pressure and zone pressure tonight, and the kids did a great job with it.”
After a hotly-contested second period, the USA was clinging to a 41-38 lead with time running down in the half when Winslow drained a long three-pointer to take a 44-48 lead into the locker room.
“I think their half-court shot was a little bit impactful,” World Select Team Coach Roy Rana said. “We found a little bit of rhythm in the third, and we lost it late in the game, but that’s to be expected with such a short prep time and kids coming in from all over the world and different challenges. We had our chances. There’s no question. We have to feel good about the fact that we were competitive, but in the end, they had better possessions down the stretch.”
With the game all knotted up at 61 heading into the fourth period, it was ultimately USA point guard Tyus Jones who made clutch play after clutch play, scoring 10 of his 13 points in the final quarter and adding a game-high six assists and five steals.
“I think it was a great game. Both teams played extremely well. Our team just wanted to focus on getting the job done no matter what it took, and that’s what we did,” Jones said. “The World Team definitely made us earn it, but each and every one of the guys in the locker room gave it their all, so we’re all happy with it.”
Coach Jones had high praise for his scrappy floor general, who made a huge steal followed by a layup with less than two minutes remaining to put the game out of reach.
“I’ve been around Tyus since his sophomore year of high school, the summer before his sophomore year, and it was just a pleasure to see. It was incredible how he literally took the game over. He was very poised. He didn’t turn the ball over, and he made us run what we needed to run, whether it was him getting the basket or him making us get the ball inside to the big guys and letting them finish,” Jones said. “Obviously, the last couple of minutes, him being able to drive and get a couple of layups, it was just a huge play. Definitely, we were trying to seize the moment, and that definitely took it for us. That was probably the play of the game.”
Despite Jones’ brilliance, it was a contest characterized by generally sloppy play overall, as the USA hardly needed any help committing 16 turnovers of their own. Nevertheless, there were bright spots for both squads. USA’s Jahlil Okafor, the consensus No. 1 high school recruit in the country, dropped 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to round out a relatively solid performance against the World Select Team’s frontcourt tandem of Karl Towns, Jr. and Trey Lyles, who were held to just six points and nine points each.
“It was a very competitive game. All of my teammates, we were all in the locker room extremely happy. We realize that [USA] lost the last two years here in this game, so it’s a great feeling for us to be a part of this, to be able to put USA back on top,” Okafor said.
Okafor, Winslow, and Jones compromise a formidable trio of young talent headed off to Duke to play for Coach K this fall.
The win was clearly a huge sigh of relief for Coach Jones, who was staring down the barrel of a third straight loss in the event, a loss that would have surely endangered his tenure at the helm of the Junior National Team.
“Obviously, leaving here [last year], leaving the podium after losing wasn’t a good feeling. It was a long ride home,” Jones said. “A lot of credit needs to go to the USA Basketball administration with giving us an extra day, with allowing us to have a training camp back in October with the entire developmental squad. I think that was a really big help. Then obviously having a team this year of guys that the coaching staff is already familiar with and most importantly, these guys were already familiar with themselves having played on the 16 and under, 17 and under teams for the bulk of them. It was a tremendous asset we had, and I think it really showed, especially when things got tough tonight.”
One of the players who was making things tough all night for the USA was Emmanuel Mudiay, who led all scorers with 20 points, three assists and three steals in a losing effort, proving once again why he’s one of the top recruits in the country.
“We came up short,” Mudiay said. “They had a good game plan. They executed towards the end. A couple of minor mistakes. I honestly felt like the game was my fault, but they came out stronger than we did in the second half.”
For Myles Turner, the country’s number two prospect who is finally set to announce his college decision after the Jordan Brand Classic later this month, it was a game that he’d probably like to just put behind him. After twisting his ankle in the second half, Turner had to be helped to the locker room and did not return. He finished with two points and three rebounds.
Portland Trail Blazers stars Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Dorell Wright, Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard were all in attendance.
Additional Game Notes:
Points in the Paint: World 34 (17/36), USA 42 (21/48)
Second-Chance Points: World 11, USA 12
Turnovers: World 22 (21 points), USA 16 (19 points)
Rebounds: World 43, USA 36
Lead Changes: 7
Biggest Leads: World 9, USA 11
Percentages: World (39.1% FG, 20% 3PT, 60% FT), USA (45% FG, 25% 3PT, 69.6% FT)
Officials: Matthew Myers, Jose Carrion, Hector Sanchez
What did you think of the talent?
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