Among the biggest fans of Team USA in the FIBA U19 World Championship has been Villanova coach Jay Wright.
That’s because Villanova-bound Jalen Brunson has put together back-to-back star turns to help the U.S. team reach Sunday’s finals.
Brunson (Stevenson; Lincolnshire, Ill.) scored 30 points Saturday to lead a 82-76 semifinal victory against host Greece.
Team USA plays Croatia on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU. Croatia beat Turkey 91-56 in the other semifinal.
Brunson’s 30-point performance were the fourth-most points by a U.S. player in U19 competition history, He shot 9-of-13 from the field overall, 2-of-5 on three-pointers, and 10-of-12 from the foul line. He also had four assists.
“It’s always been there, but I’m getting a lot more confidence and more aggressive,” Brunson said of his three-point shooting. “The coaches have been saying that I really need to stay aggressive in order for our team to win.”
Team USA shot 48.3 percent from the field and made 6-of-16 from the arc. Greece shot 41.4 percent for the game, but made 10-of-25 three-pointers. As has been the case throughout the tournament, the Americans owned the glass.
“Croatia is big and strong and they’re going to be ready to go,” said USA and University of Arizona coach Sean Miller. “We respect them a great deal. We’ve played against them, and we have to be ready to go. We didn’t win anything tonight. We just gave ourselves the opportunity to.”
Harry Giles (Wesleyan Christian Academy; Winston-Salem, N.C.) finished with his fourth consecutive double-double, recording 13 points and 11 rebounds. Terrance Ferguson (Homeschooled; Dallas) and Jayson Tatum (Chaminade College Prep; St. Louis, Mo.) each added 11 points, and Josh Jackson (Prolific Prep, Calif.; Southfield, Mich.) contributed seven points.
“It was probably one of the greatest experiences of my life by far,” said Brunson. “That was the most intense arena I’ve ever played in. Even though we were wearing white, it was an away game. It’s something I know I’m never going to forget. We didn’t play great; I know we can get better. It was a great win for us.”
Said Miller on Brunson’s play: “He really shot the ball well. He’s our leader. He’s come so far since we left Colorado Springs. He’s had an incredible tournament, and we wouldn’t be where we’re at without him, that’s for sure.
The Greek team cut the lead to three 69-66 with 3:34 left in the game but Ferguson buried a three seconds later. After a missed three by Greece, Brunson was fouled and poked in the eye. Despite blurred vision, he made both free throws and the U.S. went on to victory.
“That was a crazy game,” said Tatum. “That was the biggest atmosphere I’ve played in since I’ve been playing ball. You know it was crazy, 10,000 people against you; you’re on the road; but everybody sacrificed and just gave it their all. I’m just so happy we got the win.”