MANNHEIM, Germany — The U.S. Albert Schweitzer basketball team concluded its preparations for Saturday evening’s tournament opener against Croatia with a 76-75 victory over China on Thursday night.
“They’re not as athletic as we are, but they know how to play damn good basketball,” 7-foot center Cole Aldrich of Bloomington, Minn., said after the Americans rallied from four points back with less than a minute to go in the practice game.
With the U.S. trailing 75-71, Josue Soto of Jacksonville, Fla., stole the ball in the backcourt and was fouled. He hit his first shot and missed the second with 55 seconds left.
China rebounded, but Edwin Rios of Miami, who led the U.S. with 21 points, stole the ball with 44.6 seconds to play and was fouled. He hit one shot to cut the gap to 75-73.
With the U.S. pressing, Soto stole the inbounds pass at the top of the key and got the ball to Aldrich, who had been guarding the inbounds passer. Aldrich’s booming two-handed dunk tied the game 75-75 with 35 seconds left.
Soto again stole the ball and sank one of two free throws for the winning margin with 29 seconds left. A turnover and China’s inability to successfully inbounds twice under its own basket in the final seconds sealed the victory for the Americans.
Aldrich, who scored eight points, also was instrumental in the Americans’ rebounding down the stretch.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a big man that dominant,” said Heidelberg High School coach Brad Shahan, a longtime observer of this biennial event.
Shahan also praised Scoop Jardine of Philadelphia.
“He made a couple of really hard cross-court passes from the wing,” Shahan said of the junior. “You can’t teach that.”
Recipient of Jardine’s passes was his Philadelphia Neumann-Goretti High School teammate Rich Jackson, who scored 16 points. Luke Babbitt of Reno, Nev., added 14 points for the U.S.
Aldrich said he didn’t see much he didn’t expect in his first taste of international basketball.
“I’m not really surprised,” he said, “because I’ve watched international players in the NBA and on college teams. Every one of them is a great shooter.”
And the style of play down low?
“It’s rough,” he said. “It’s a lot more physical than the U.S.”
Tip-off against Croatia is 6 p.m. at the Benjamin Franklin Village Sports Arena.