The 2020 USA Basketball E-National Team (7-1) earned a pair of hard-fought victories in the best-of-three grand finals to claim the series 2-0 lead over Dominican Republic (5-3) and earn the inaugural FIBA Esports Open II North and Central America Conference championship on Sunday evening. The USA rallied back from a 12-0 deficit to earn a 48-45 victory in the first game of the Finals and held off the Dominicans in the second game 60-56.
USA team captain JBM (John ‘Jack’ Mascone/Wizards District Gaming) earned conference MVP honors after averaging 19.5 points and 7.0 assists in the two finals games.
“There’s not really a word to put on it,” said the MVP about how it felt to win the championship. “To carry USA Basketball’s reputation and to win, to win those nail-biters, to fight after losing that first game, these guys really had my back. I was super demoralized after that first game and all six of my teammates brought an energy that I didn’t have after that game. We were able to carry on and this is awesome. This is what it’s about. This is what we practiced for, it’s been a month that went into this – preparing the team, getting closer to each other and to be resilient like that. It’s all been worth it.”
In addition to JBM, the seven-member USA E-National Team included: ALittleLady87 (Wendi Fleming/BallHerAlert); Crush (Rafel Davis/Kings Guard Gaming); Kenny Got Work (Kenneth Hailey/Raptors Uprising GC) OriginalMalik (Malik Hobson/Knicks Gaming); Ramo (Ramo Radoncic/Pistons GT); and Ria (Spencer Wyman/Jazz Gaming).
Dominican Republic raced out to a 12-0 lead in the first game, but the U.S. rallied and trailed 29-21 at the half and 36-31 heading into the fourth quarter. JBM, who scored eight points through the first three periods, knocked down 10 points in the fourth quarter, including eight-straight to put the red, white and blue up by three, 44-41. The islanders hit back-to-back buckets to pull ahead 45-44 with 36 seconds remaining. However, after the U.S. put up two points with 20.4 left on the clock, Ria calmly stepped to the line to virtually ice the 48-45 victory with a pair of free throws. The Dominicans were unable to score over the final 13 seconds, and the U.S. held on for the win.
JBM finished with a game-high of 18 points and six assists, Ramo netted 17 points and Ria scored eight points and hauled in a game-best 10 rebounds.
“I’m pretty sure that I can speak on behalf of our entire team that the best moment was definitely the finals,” declared Ramo. “Every game against the D.R., the intensity stepped up. I could hear everyone’s attention after every single play, you just feel it. One stop, next play, one stop, next play, everybody’s hyped and talking every single play. Honestly, I can’t wait to have that gold medal around my neck.”
The second contest was equally as hard fought, with the USA owning a 16-13 edge at the end of the first quarter. A 10-0 burst from the Dominicans to open the second quarter helped launch the opponents to a 32-26 halftime lead. After the Dominicans hit a 3 to start the second half, the USA hit four 3s in a 14-2 run to go back up, 40-37. From there, the teams traded baskets, and a 3-pointer by KennyGotWork at the buzzer lifted the North Americans to 48-46 heading into the final period. The U.S. went up by four points, 52-48, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but the Dominicans rallied back with eight-consecutive points and with 1:10 remaining in the game, led 56-52. Eleven seconds later, Ria made a traditional three-point play followed by a defensive stop on the other end and KennyGotWork netted a 3 to give the USA a 58-56 lead with 23 seconds to play. After a tied-up ball, the USA won the jump and Ria was fouled with less than 10 seconds to play. He again stepped to the line and swished in both of his attempts, and the USA closed out the game with the 60-56 victory.
In the second clash against Dominican Republic, JBM shot 7-of-10 from 3 point and finished with team-highs of 23 points and eight assists, KennyGotWork scored 21 points and Ria finished with a double-double of 11 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Earlier in the day, the USA sailed to a 121-15 victory over Costa Rica (1-5) to close out preliminary round play with a 5-1 slate. Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico also finished round-robin play with 5-1 records and based on FIBA’s tie-breaking formula, the Dominicans finished first, the USA in second and Puerto Rico was third in the standings.
“The game against Dominican Republic (the USA’s 60-57 overtime win on Saturday in the preliminary round), where we came back in overtime and Kenny hit those shots, that was probably one of my favorite moments,” remarked ALittleLady87. “And right now, with the championship.”
This tournament marked the second edition of the FIBA Esports Open, the first of which took place in June and included five conferences featuring 114 gamers from 17 national federations. The FIBA Esports Open II field expanded to 38 national teams in seven regional conferences.
Each national team consisted of up to seven players, five on the court and two reserves. Games were played remotely on NBA 2K21 using the Pro-AM mode and allowing for customization of gamer avatars and uniforms.
As was the case for the inaugural FIBA Esports Open, this entire series was produced from the FIBA Esports Studio in Riga, Latvia, with 54 hours of live content being streamed on FIBA’s Facebook, Twitch and YouTube channels. Each game was available online with live commentary in English, as well as a daily show featuring up to 12 games.