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Puerto Rico ends 20-year Olympic drought with historic win over Lithuania – FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2024 San Juan, Puerto Rico


Puerto Rico ends 20-year Olympic drought with historic win over Lithuania – FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2024 San Juan, Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN (Puerto Rico) – Puerto Rico put the finishing touches on a dream week Sunday night with a historic 79-68 victory over Lithuania to win the 2024 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in San Juan and grab the remaining ticket to Paris 2024.

Jose Alvarado, Tremont Waters and company put on a show in front of 2004 legends like Carlos Arroyo and crowd of 13,504 ecstatic souls at Coliseo Jose Miguel Agrelot.

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Turning point

Puerto Rico’s offense came in waves and each of their runs had the strength of a hurricane.

They first jump to an 11-3 lead in the first quarter before Lithuania found their composure and evened things up. Then they uncorked an 11-0 run in the second quarter (mostly courtesy of Waters) to turn a 6-point deficit into a 37-32 advantage.

Then came the whole third quarter, where Puerto Rico put on a clinic on both ends of the floor to stretch the lead at one point to 14 points — a lead they’d preserve all the way to the final buzzer.

TCL Player of the Game

Alvarado took the intensity to 11 from the beginning of the game, setting the tone with suffocating defense, breathtaking speed and bulls-eye accuracy from beyond the arc.

The New Orleans Pelicans guard scored 10 points in a key stretch of the third quarter where Puerto Rico took control of the game. He finished with 23 points, 6 rebounds and 2 steals for a 23 efficiency, while shooting 9-for-14 from the field and 4-for-6 from downtown.

For his heroics, the 26-year-old was also named TISSOT MVP of the tournament.

Waters was the perfect sidekick, scoring 18 points to round out an excellent week individually. He also was the intellectual owner of the best assist of the whole event:

Rokas Jokubaitis (16 points and 3 assists), Domantas Sabonis (10 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks) and Edgaras Ulanovas (8 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists) had solid contributions for Lithuania but they couldn’t overcome the tidal kinetic storm that was the host country.

Stats don’t lie

Puerto Rico managed to both play fast and under control, finding better ball movement in the second half and raining down a storm of three-pointers.

Nelson Colon’s squad shot 12-for-25 from downtown, with each of them serving the dual purpose of holding Lithuania at bay and making the fans at “El Choli” lose their minds in celebration.

The boricuas also held their own on defense, limiting the Europeans to just 6 made three-pointers and keeping them at 42 percent from the field.

Bottom line

Exactly 20 years after Puerto Rico shocked the world by defeating United States in Athens, the boricuas are returning to the Olympics. They’ll share Group C with United States, Serbia and South Sudan in Paris.

Lithuania have now missed the Olympics in back-to-back editions after having perfect attendance at the Games since they regained independence in 1991.

They said

“My 12 players, they’re the heroes. We made history tonight. We beat 2 of the most powerful teams in the world here in our island and in front of our people because we believed and we prepared ourselves for this moment.” – Nelson Colon, Puerto Rico head coach.

“The game was amazing. The atmosphere was great. This game was everything we worked for. For us, for the island, we knew it was more than basketball. We knew how great we had to be to represent this island. As a kid, I wasn’t born in the island so I’m learning so much about this game and the history that came with it. I’m just so happy to be a part of it. JJ (Barea), Carlos (Arroyo) and all those greats that were here created a path for us.” – Jose Alvarado, Puerto Rico point guard

“Thanks to the fans, both Puerto Rican and Lithuanian, for the great atmosphere. Of course special thanks to Lithuanian fans for coming from so far. Puerto Rico today was one step better, one step faster than us. They collapsed on Domas, they doubled Grigonis and we couldn’t find solutions or find ways to score.” – Kazys Maksvytis, Lithuania head coach

“We let this game get away from us. We couldn’t find ways to score on the offensive end and especially get stops when we needed to.” – Domantas Sabonis, Lithuania power forward

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