Bench Contributes Big Time As Dominican Republic Vaults Into 2nd Round Of FIBA Cup Off Backs Of USVI
SAN JUAN — After a hard-fought overtime victory against the U.S. Virgin Islands on Saturday at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, the Dominican Republic officially qualified as part of Group C for the 2022 AmeriCup tournament.
Dominican Republic’s bench players were the difference makers in the 103-99 victory, contributing 61 points in comparison to the U.S. Virgin Islands’ nine points.
“I think we worked hard,” said Dominican Republic coach Melvyn Lopez. “Our players especially the guys from the bench really showed me that they want to play; that they play hard. They showed their abilities today.”
Fresh off a heartbreaking loss in the final seconds against Canada on Thursday, the U.S. Virgin Islands disrupted Dominican Republic’s offensive rhythm and opened the game efficiently on the offensive side of the ball, led by point guard Walter Hodge who finished the game with 29 points on 9 for 17 shooting along with 12 assists.
“I feel really content [and] proud of these guys not just with the way we competed and sending a game into overtime but with limited players,” the U.S. Virgin Islands coach Donald Bough said in the post-game press conference. “We are not that deep. According to the stats, we were even; rebounds, turnovers; maybe a little difference in the free throws down the stretch. We had a couple shots that we could have capitalized on but by no means am I chastising any of my players…They battled.”
After scoring 10 points in the first two minutes of the first quarter, the Dominican Republic fell behind by as much as 13 points after a four-minute scoring drought. As both teams struggled in the turnover department, the game remained close at 48- 41 at the end of the first half.
It seemed the Dominican Republic (4 -1) were going to pull away in the second half. The team grew their lead to as much as 15 points after guard Victor Liz, forward Juan Guerrero and power forward Angel Castillo got it going from beyond the arc. They got into foul trouble early, but the U.S. Virgin Islands could not capitalize at the free throw line, shooting a dismal 60 percent from the line. Thus, it seemed the Dominican Republic had a clear path to qualification while leading by 13 with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The U.S. Virgin Islands (1-4) and Hodge would not go away and continued to chip away at the lead. Down by two and shooting his second free throw with two seconds remaining, Hodge threw the ball off rim for put back rebound and made the layup to tie the game at 94.
“It was a tough moment,: said Dominican Republic point guard Michael Torres. “We were up by I think by like 15 or 18 and they came back but it’s good —the team overcame the situation and fought for the game.”
However, missing starting point guard Trivante Bloodman after he went down with an ankle injury in the first quarter ultimately plagued the U.S. Virgin Islands. As a result, many players including star players Hodge and Ivan Aska, who added 25 points and 11 rebounds, were forced to play extended minutes without much rest. They could not respond after Torres made the go ahead bucket with two minutes remaining and then a pair of free throws under a minute to go.
“We were right there,” Bough added. “They had a little more energy than us and they capitalized…When I lost my starting point guard, that kind of put as at a disadvantage in terms of rotation.”
Torres finished the overtime thriller with 19 points in addition to 9 rebounds and 11 assists while teammate Eloy Vargas dominated the boards paint with 9 points and 13 rebounds.
After two heartbreaking losses, the U.S. Virgin Islands ended up losing three games in a row when it fell to Canada 95-90 on Saturday afternoon.
The Dominican Republic now joins Team USA and Brazil as the only three teams officially qualified for next year’s tournament.