MANILA, Philippines — The U.S. got its first real test of the Basketball World Cup on Friday, and found a way to survive and remain unbeaten.
Anthony Edwards scored 17 points, Austin Reaves had 12, Jaren Jackson Jr. added 11 and the Americans overcame a halftime deficit to beat Montenegro 85-73 in the second-round opener at the World Cup for both teams. It put the U.S. on the brink of clinching a spot in the quarterfinals.
Mikal Bridges and Tyrese Haliburton each scored 10 for the U.S. (4-0).
Nikola Vucevic had 18 points and 15 rebounds for Montenegro, which led 39-38 at the half. Kendrick Perry scored 14 for Montenegro (2-2).
The U.S. led 61-55 going into the fourth and tacked a point on to make it a seven-point edge — its biggest of the game to that point — early in the final quarter.
Montenegro just wouldn’t go away. A 3-pointer by Nikola Ivanovic got the underdogs within 64-62 with 7:15 remaining, and the Americans couldn’t exhale until the final seconds — a far cry from the way the first three games of the tournament went, with points coming in bunches and the U.S. winning every game by at least 27 points.
It was a bad first half for the U.S. by almost all statistical measures: The Americans shot 35% from the field, were just 1 for 9 from 3-point range, got outrebounded 28-17 and managed only nine points off 12 turnovers by Montenegro.
And the U.S. misfired on opportunities as well. Consider this sequence that started with 1:10 left in the half: Walker Kessler got a dunk off a pass from Edwards, got fouled, Montenegro was whistled for a technical as well. But the U.S. went just 1 for 3 on the ensuing free throws, and Kessler missed from layup range to end the possession.
It was a chance for a seven-point possession and the U.S. came away with only three.
USA: The Americans were 26.5-point favorites at tip-off. … Kessler got earlier-than-usual minutes, in large part because of the success Montenegro’s big front line was having in the paint. Cam Johnson was not in Friday’s rotation. … Paolo Banchero played with a wrap on his right thumb, which he hurt on a pass in the Greece game.
Montenegro: Before Friday, Montenegro had only a 4-4 record this summer — 2-1 at the World Cup, 2-3 in exhibitions leading up to the tournament. … Perry is a Florida native, someone who played four years of college basketball at Youngstown State (averaging 16.2 points for his career) and briefly had time in the G League before spending the last decade or so in various international leagues.
Friday marked the first time the U.S. played the national team currently known as Montenegro at the senior men’s level. The U.S. beat the former Yugoslavia — made up of Serbia and Montenegro — in the gold-medal game at the 1996 Olympics.
Once again, the U.S. didn’t come out flying in the opening minutes. The Americans got down 14-4 to New Zealand and 6-2 to Greece to open those games, and found themselves in a quick 11-4 hole Friday.
USA: Play Lithuania on Sunday.
Montenegro: Play Greece on Sunday.
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