FIBA Americas: Mexico caps magical run, nips Puerto Rico for title

Mexico certainly essayed a perfect finish to its astonishing ride in the 2013 FIBA-Americas Championship.

Showing steely nerves in the stretch, the Mexicans hung tough for a thrilling 91-89 victory against the favored Puerto Rican crew Wednesday to crown themselves kings of the American region at the Polidero de Caracas stadium in Caracas, Venezuela.

Guard Jovan Harris tallied a team-high 23 points while Atlanta Hawks center Gustavo Ayon, who was eventually named the tournament MVP, banged in a double-double of 20 markers and 16 boards for Mexico, a last-minute entry in the tournament as a replacement for FIBA-suspended Panama.

Ranked 13 rungs higher than the Mexicans at 19th spot in the world, the Puerto Ricans still had a chance to steal the victory with 6.8 seconds left but power forward Alexander Galindo’s triple at the right corner failed to connect just before the final buzzer sounded.

Former NBA journeyman Carlos Arroyo led Puerto Rico with 23 points but made a costly turnover late in the game while backcourt buddy JJ Barea added 20 markers and former Petron Blaze import Renaldo Balkman scattered 14 points, five rebounds and two steals.

Balkman was almost the hero for Puerto Rico, stealing the ball with 11 seconds left and Puerto Rico trailing by one, 90-89. But Arroyo threw the ball away with an errant pass to Balkman, giving possession back to Mexico. A free throw by Mexico restored the lead to two with 6.8 ticks left, but Galindo misfired on a wide-open three from the right flank to cap the Mexicans' improbable run to the title.

Joining Ayon, Barea and Balkman in the tournament Mythical Team were forward Luis Scola and Facundo Campazzo of Argentina, which earlier completed the podium finishers with a 103-93 win against Dominican Republic.

The four countries, along with defending champion and reigning Olympic gold medalist United States, will represent the American region in next year’s FIBA Basketball World Cup in Madrid, Spain.

Also vying for world supremacy are Iran, the Philippines and South Korea (Asia); Angola, Egypt and Senegal (Africa); Australia and New Zealand (Oceania); and host Spain.

Six slots are up for grabs in the ongoing FIBA EuroBasket in Slovenia while the remaining four berths will be coming from the wildcards.

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