LIMA, Peru – Not bad for a bunch of kids.
Sporting players entirely from the NCAA’s Big East Conference, the U.S. men’s basketball team defeated the Dominican Republic 92-83 behind a 20-6 run spanning almost six minutes in the final quarter. Team USA’s win earned the squad bronze at the Pan American Games Lima 2019 at Eduardo Dibos Coliseum.
Collin Gillespie scored 24 points, Alpha Diallo added 23, and Geoffrey Groselle recorded a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds en route to the victory.
“It feels great,” Groselle, the former Creighton Bluejay who currently plays for BC Astana in Kazakhstan, said. “It might not mean much to everybody, but not everybody gets to wear this USA on their jersey. And I’m going to wear that bronze medal with pride.”
At 26 years old, Groselle is the oldest player on the team. The average age of the U.S. team is 21.2. Six players on the roster are age 20 or younger. In contrast, the average age of the Dominican Republic’s roster is 26.8. Six players on their roster are over the age of 25.
Not bad for a bunch of kids.
One day after suffering the worst U.S. men’s basketball defeat in Pan American Games history – a 39-point loss to an Argentina squad featuring 10-year NBA veteran Luis Scola – the student-athletes found a way to outscore the Dominican Republic 32-18 in the fourth quarter to capture the win on their fifth consecutive day of competition.
“What our players were able to do was tell one another ‘We do not want to leave Peru without something to show our effort,’” head coach Ed Cooley said. “So that’s what I told them today. ‘Let’s try to do everything we can to at least walk away with a third-place prize because we can’t finish first or second.’”
“We have 12 guys that were fully capable of playing,” Gillespie said of the team’s collective stamina. “We had guys flowing in and out, playing as hard as they can. When players got tired, [it was] next man up. And there was no drop off in talent, no drop off of competing and playing hard.”
Inexperience did peak its head into several moments of the game. After starting the game on a 9-1 run, seven U.S turnovers helped the Dominican Republic claim an 18-17 lead with 0:50 remaining in the first quarter.
Villanova’s Gillespie had a chance to regain the lead to end the quarter but only managed to hit one of three free throw attempts to tie the score 20-20 with 1.1 seconds remaining.
Groselle worked to keep Team USA within striking distance during the second quarter. He scored eight points on 3-of-3 shooting during the quarter to keep the U.S within two points at the end of the half, 38-36. Groselle’s 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting led all players in the first half. Coming into tonight, he was averaging 8.3 points per game.
“Overseas I’m used to being a main option [for] scoring,” Groselle said. “I just had it going today and they kept feeding me.”
“He told us before the game that he liked his matchup in the post,” Gillespie added. “So we had confidence in him. We were just feeding him, letting him go to work, and then he was making plays when they started to double him.”
The U.S. managed to pick up its first lead since early in the first quarter in the beginning of the second half, after Gillespie’s streaking right-handed layup with 7:09 remaining made the score 44-43. Back-to-back 3-point shots from the Dominican Republic quickly reversed their fortune to make the score 49-44. Sadiel Rojas scored his fourth point of the game to make the score 51-44 and forced Cooley to call a timeout.
After the timeout, Gillespie found some rhythm, hitting his next two shots from beyond the arc to bring the U.S back to within one, 51-50. Later, Gillespie sank two free throws to give Team USA a 54-53 lead with 4:09 remaining.
But the U.S lost the lead heading into the fourth. They committed two shooting fouls in the last 24.7 seconds of play, one on a 3-point attempt from Adris De Leon. The Dominican Republic sank all five free throws to take a 65-60 lead going into the final quarter.
Then the U.S. took control of the game.
Five players scored on a 15-2 run over the first 4:37 of the fourth quarter to stretch the U.S lead to 75-67. The run extended to 20-6, and the Dominican Republic failed to threaten the U.S for the rest of the game.
“I think that’s something we got better with throughout the games here,” Gillespie said of controlling the fourth quarter. “It happened with Puerto Rico. We were up a little bit, and, in the fourth quarter, they made a run. So, I think we’ve grown a little bit over the five games that we’ve played here. We learned that we can’t let up on them at all.”
“I couldn’t be more thankful,” Cooley said. “To the group and to the players. Because I’ll never coach this group again as a unit.”
Not bad for a bunch of kids.