Large leads can evaporate in FIBA competition much like the G League, but the USA Basketball team stood firm to defeat Puerto Rico 83-75 Monday night in the second of two qualifying contests in Santa Cruz.

A 22-point lead in the third period was whittled to one in the fourth quarter as the Americans were staggered by the persistence of Puerto Rico. Some key defensive plays supported by clutch shooting held sway for the Red, White and Blue.

Head coach Jeff Van Gundy was relieved to get the win and proud of the team for overcoming difficult circumstances. There is also the realization that these preliminary rounds are important for when there will be a more NBA flavor during the FIBA World Cup in China next year.

“(Greg Popovich) was going to fire me about midway through the fourth quarter. I wouldn’t have blamed him. I almost fired myself and turned it over to Mo McHone.”

Guards Aaron Harrison led the American effort with 16 points and Larry Drew II hit 6 of 9 shots for 14 points plus 7 assists. Puerto Rico’s Gian Clavell was a transcendent presence with 23 points and 6 rebounds.

By virtue of their perfect record in the first two windows of first round qualifying, the American squad has locked down a spot in the second round play which begins this September. Two games remain for Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba to lock down the remaining two spots up for grabs in Group C. Those final first round games will take place in late June and early July.

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