Havana – There was some excitement for “The Star-Spangled Banner” ahead of an American basketball game in Cuba on Independence Day.
And so the Americans celebrated the holiday with a big victory.
Javier Munford scored 24 points as the US beat Cuba 87-64 on Monday night to close out the first round of qualifying for next year’s Basketball World Cup – an improvement from the now 31-1 draw against the island nation.
“It’s exciting to play the Fourth of July,” said Jim Boylen, who has coached the United States in all three qualifying two-game windows. “It’s exciting to be here with this group of people, with the United States of America on their chest. Big day. Our nation turns 246 years old today and we are grateful for this moment together.”
Munford was 10-12 off the field for the Americans, who have 13 points over Justin Jackson, 12 over John Jenkins – all 3 points – and 10-10 points over Will Davis and Langston Galloway.
“It’s the 4th of July. There’s no better feeling than winning tonight,” Munford said.
Jordan Bell finished with eight rebounds and six assists for the Americans, who had already guaranteed a place in the second round of the standings. They would go 5–1 in the second round, earning a spot at the World Cup and taking a major step toward qualifying American basketball for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Joel Quabila led Cuba (0–6) with 15 points.
The Americans will begin the second round of the World Cup qualifiers on August 25, with the first game expected against Uruguay in Las Vegas. The United States will also play on 29 August, possibly away from home and possibly against Colombia, although FIBA has yet to confirm this as a matchup.
Two victories away from home in this trip – the Americans beat Puerto Rico on Friday – put America in a prime position to qualify for the World Cup. The roster was composed mostly of G League players, as the Americans always do in World Cup qualifiers, and Boylen said the group quickly formed.
“We came together 11 days ago and our team was focused, our people were great, we worked on the fundamentals, we got better every day and I think we played the right way,” he said. “The ball has changed, we grew up together and took care of each other.”
The United States will be placed in the second round along with Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Colombia. Venezuela, Argentina, Panama, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas will also be grouped from the Americas region.
Both groups will send three teams to the World Cup; The fourth-best team of either group will also go, with the Americas region sending seven teams to tournaments to be played in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia in the summer of 2023.
Cuba took a 16-14 lead after the first quarter on Monday night. But the Americans scored 14 points in the first 2:19 of the second quarter to take command.
“We lost in the first quarter, but I thought we responded in the second quarter,” Boylen said.
A 3-pointer from Jackson started the second quarter and put USA ahead for good. The lead at the start of the third was 49-32 – that was a 35-16 US run – and the Americans stayed ahead of the rest of the way.
“The Cuban team was great,” Munford said. “They went with great effort. They made us work for it. They had strong faces. We played well tonight. We execute, we take care of the ball, we run our offense and we play American-style basketball. play.”