GUANGZHOU, CHINA – Puerto Rico couldn’t even begin qualifying for this World Cup at home two years ago, forced to move its opening game to Florida because of the damage that Hurricane Maria inflicted on the island.
They were undeterred then.
They’re in the World Cup’s second round now.
Gary Browne’s 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left capped a 15-4 run to end the game, and Puerto Rico beat Tunisia 67-64 in a contest that decided the second spot in the second round out of Group C in Guangzhou, China. The win ensures Puerto Rico (2-1) will have its best World Cup finish since at least 2002, and earned the team a second-round opener in Wuhan, China, on Friday.
“Thank God we came up with the win,” Browne said. “We’ve been working very hard for what we have right now.”
Browne ran down the shot clock, faked a drive, stepped back and hit the shot that gave Puerto Rico its first and only lead of the final quarter. Renaldo Balkman led Puerto Rico with 14 points and David Huertas — who made a transition 3-pointer from the left wing to tie the game with 1:37 left — finished with 10.
Salah Mejri and Omar Abada each scored 14 for Tunisia (1-2), which was bidding for its first trip to the second round of the World Cup. Michael Roll scored 13 and Makram Ben Romdhane had 12 for Tunisia, which led 60-52 with 8:30 remaining.
“Players win and coaches lose,” said Tunisia coach Mario Palma, whose club not only missed out on a second-round World Cup berth but also would have qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with a victory.
Puerto Rico opened its World Cup qualifying run with a game in Orlando, Florida, against the U.S. in November 2017, since the issues caused by Maria — a Category 4 storm when it hit Puerto Rico, leaving a death toll of around 3,000 — could not be solved in time to play in San Juan. The Puerto Ricans wound up playing their other five home games of qualifying as scheduled, going 5-0 in San Juan.
Poland 80, Cote d’Ivoire 63
In Beijing, Poland finished off an unbeaten march through Group A with its win over Cote d’Ivoire, behind 16 points from Adam Waczynski on 6-for 7-shooting.
Poland plays the Russia-Argentina loser on Friday in a second-round opener at Foshan. Cote d’Ivoire (0-3) got 23 points from Charles Abouo and will begin the classification round on Friday in Guangzhou.
Angola 84, Philippines 81 (OT)
In Foshan, Angola got its first win of this World Cup, hanging on despite wasting a 12-point lead in the final 8:20 of regulation.
Valdelicio Joaquim scored 20 points and Yanick Moreira had 12 points and 15 rebounds for Angola (1-2 in Group D). Andray Blatche led the Philippines (0-3) with 23 points and 12 rebounds.
Both teams are headed to Beijing for classification games starting Friday.
Nigeria 108, South Korea 66
In Wuhan, Nigeria avoided a winless stint in Group B by easing past South Korea.
Michael Eric scored 17 and Ike Diogu finished with 16 for Nigeria (1-2). Guna Ra scored 18 for South Korea (0-3).
The tournament continues for both teams with classification games Guangzhou starting Friday.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5