With Algeria winless thus far in the competition, this game could have been a tough game for the Americans after playing two other perennial contenders, Great Britain and Australia. The challenge was to stay sharp against the developing Algeria team, in a sense, making this a competition against themselves.
Co-Captain Steve Serio was seemingly focused on using the game to build confidence in his teammates by limiting his field goal tries and registering six assists in just ten minutes played. One of the beneficiaries of multiple Serio assists was first-time Paralympian, Ryan Neiswender. In the first minute of the game, Serio secured a rebound and initiated a fast break opportunity that created space and forced the defender to commit to him. He then dropped a perfect pass for Neiswender who went in cleanly for the finish and the first two points of the game.
Neiswender talked about how his teammates have helped him grow his confidence in his role as a starter.
“We have guys on this team that know the ropes and can teach us as we come on to this scene. The guys have told me next shot, next play, the next one’s going in, which has allowed me to take a shot with confidence,” said Neiswender.
Team USA was able to maintain their strong defensive intensity that has been the common thread throughout the preliminary round of these Paralympic Games. Whether that be individually forcing their offensive assignments out wide, or switching well in the half court defensive sets.
Head Coach Ron Lykins shared his assessment on the team’s performance up and down the roster.
"I was pleased with everybody. We wanted to make sure we held our standards up, so it didn’t matter who was out there playing,” said Lykins. “We had certain things that we wanted to do, and I thought the guys did a pretty good job of that. For the most part, just about everybody stayed within the system and played the way we wanted to.”
Josh Turek scored 21 points in 21 minutes played with the same business-like focus he possesses whether playing the reigning World Champions or an upstart team from the Africa Zone of the IWBF.
Turek talked about his mental focus moving through the preliminary round and preparing for the upcoming quarter final.
“I wanted to see some [shots] go through to get in a good rhythm and to be in a real attack mindset because we are getting to the business end of this tournament and it gets serious. And I didn’t feel like I had some normal shooting games for myself,” he said.
The outcome for Turek was a 69% performance from the floor and 75% from the free throw line. His nine field goals were comprised of his typical mix of 15-footers, flash cuts to the paint, and finishing among the opposition’s bigs. That will be important as USA prepares to take on Turkey in the quarterfinal. Turek, a 17-year veteran of the European wheelchair basketball leagues, talked about what he and his teammates will see on Wednesday.
“They’re gonna be big, physical, and emotional. They thrive off of big shots and they’re emotional. We know they’ve got shot makers, they’re gonna hit some big shots, but I really feel like we’ve caught a rhythm,” he said.
This USA team has several athletes who have come up big in big moments since the start of these Paralympic Games. A look back at the preliminary round reveals the depth and options on this roster. Coach Lykins talked about the benefit of Josh Turek being one of those athletes.
“It’s nice to have that type of weapon on the team. Doesn’t matter how long he’s been sitting out, that first shot’s going in. It’s just remarkable how he’s ready mentally when he goes in the game and takes care of business,” he said.
A balanced scoring attack and continued defensive pressure will be the keys to success for this team that appears to be clicking at the right time.
The quarterfinal against Turkey will take place on Wednesday, September 1 at 12:30pm Japan Standard Time.