US tops Puerto Rico in World Cup qualifying opener
ORLANDO, Fla. — Jameel Warney and Reggie Hearn each scored 17 points, and the United States opened qualifying for the 2019 Basketball World Cup with an 85-78 victory over Puerto Rico on Thursday night (Friday Manila time).
Xavier Munford scored 12 points and Markel Brown added 10 for the Americans, who trailed 57-51 late in the third. A 10-0 run late in that quarter gave the US the lead, and a 22-12 burst in the fourth decided things.
Hearn scored 16 of his points in the second half for the US, the two-time defending World Cup champions. The Americans are using players from the G League to try and qualify for the tournament, to which the US would send NBA stars in an effort to claim another gold.
Angel Vassallo scored 16 points and Angel Rodriguez finished with 13 points and eight assists for Puerto Rico, which led by as many as nine early.
The Americans and Puerto Ricans are in Group C of the World Cup qualifying; Mexico was playing host to Cuba in the other Group C opening game later Thursday night.
Hearn's 3-pointer with 8:15 left broke a tie and the Americans wouldn't trail again. Rodriguez made back-to-back 3-pointers late to get Puerto Rico within four, but the US scored the next six points to push the lead out to 83-73.
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Warney also had 11 rebounds for the US, which outrebounded Puerto Rico 44-26.
Although the game was in Orlando, the US was technically on the road. Puerto Rico was supposed to host Thursday, but could not because of the ongoing recovery efforts from the devastation all over the island caused by Hurricane Maria.
There seemed to be a bit of home-court advantage for the Puerto Ricans. There were Puerto Rican flags, some Latin music coming through the speakers, even advertising signage in Spanish. When Vassallo opened the game with a pair of 3-pointers for a quick 6-0 lead, most of the pro-Puerto Rico crowd was roaring.
In the end, though, the result was as usual: The US hasn't lost to Puerto Rico since 2005.