With wins Wednesday, Puerto Rico and Venezuela make it 6 of the 7 qualifiers from the Americas to advance to the FIBA World Cup second round.
When thinking of the teams that qualified for the FIBA World Cup from zone qualifying in the Americans, there is a tendency to think of those national squads as Team USA and the other guys.
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But with wins on Wednesday, Puerto Rico and Venezuela became the fifth and sixth of the seven teams from the Americas qualifying event to advance to the second round of the tournament.
Perhaps the surprise is the team that is out. Canada, which finished with the best record in qualifying at 10-2 with a plus-282 scoring margin, will be headed to classification round play after losing its first two games.
Argentina clinched its spot on Monday, with Team USA, Brazil and the Dominican Republic ensuring their advancement on Tuesday.
Puerto Rico, as it has all tournament long, took it down to the wire to clinch the second spot behind Spain in Group C.
Puerto Rico erased a 19-point lead to beat Iran 83-81 in its opening game and after losing to Spain on Monday, it was left for the Puerto Ricans to find more late magic.
Tunisia took a 64-59 lead on Makram Ben Romdhane’s jumper with 4:34 remaining … and never scored again.
Instead, Puerto Rico clamped down at the defensive end and did just enough offensively to get the comeback. Neither team scored for more than two minutes down the stretch before Devon Collier dropped in a jumper with 2:14 to get Puerto Rico back to within three.
Tunisia missed two shots on its next possession, with Gary Browne grabbing the long rebound and finding Game 1 hero David Huertas on the left wing for a game-tying 3-pointer with 1:37 to go.
The finish was as much a battle of attrition as anything. Tunisia missed. Puerto Rico answered with a miss and couldn’t convert a follow-up tip-in. Tunisia got two shots on its next possession, but after getting the offensive board, all they could manufacture was a forced 3-pointer by Salah Mejri that was off target.
Puerto Rico got the ball back with a bit more than 26 seconds left and opted to run with it, eschewing a timeout.
Browne waved off a screen and then froze Michael Roll with a jab step before coolly knocking down a step-back 3-pointer with five seconds left to put Puerto Rico in front.
Ben Romdhane missed a turnaround 3 from the baseline as time expired and Puerto Rico had its second come-from-behind win of the first round.
It wasn’t nearly as dramatic for Venezuela in Beijing, as they beat the host Chinese 72-59 to join Poland in advancing from Group A.
China, the hosts, will head to the classification round in part because they could not contain the smaller, scrappier Venezuelans on the glass. Venezuela outrebounded China 49-28 and finished with more offensive boards (20) than China had on the defensive window (18).
Poland pulled away from Ivory Coast in the fourth quarter for an 80-63 victory and a perfect 3-0 record moving forward to the second round, while Venezuela moves forward at 2-1.
In Group B, Argentina held off a late charge from Russia for a 69-61 victory and finished group play at 3-0, with Russia advancing at 2-1. Nigeria routed Korea for its first win of the tourmament, 108-66.
Foshan will host Group I for the second round, with Poland and Argentina at 3-0 and Venezuela and Russia 2-1. Poland and Russia square off at 4 a.m. Eastern Friday, with Venezuela and Argentina to follow at 8 a.m. Eastern.
There was nearly a shocker in Group C, but Spain held off Iran by scoring the game’s final eight points to escape with a 73-65 win and a 3-0 record in the group.
In Group D, Serbia didn’t make every shot it took for once, but still had more than enough to finish the stage 3-0 with a 92-77 win over Italy, which fell to 2-1 heading to the second round.
In the other game in Group D, Angola picked up its first win with an 84-81 overtime win over the Philippines.
Group J will be played in Wuhan, with Spain and Serbia undefeated at 3-0 and Italy and Puerto Rico coming in 2-1. Serbia and Puerto Rico open play at 4:30 a.m. Friday, with Spain and Italy tipping off at 8:30 a.m.