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Near-perfect Kenneth Lofton Jr., USA advance to quarterfinals

Memorial graduate Kenneth Lofton Jr. had an impressive performance in Team USA U19’s (4-0) 132-60 win Thursday over Korea.

The Port Arthur native went 7-of-8 from the field, scoring 14 points, grabbing six boards and collecting one steal in 15 minutes.

The win advances USA to the quarterfinals at the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup for Men in Riga, Latvia. The USA finished with U19 men’s single-game records in points (132), rebounds (62), assists (39), field goals made (57) and field goals attempted (92).

“Well, he’s (Lofton Jr.) really a tough guy to defend,” said USA head coach Jamie Dixon (TCU). “We have good passing, and then he really finished around the rim, gets his back to the basket, gets offensive rebounds, and can score on dump offs. So, it is a good combination, and he is pretty good from the free throw line.”

The Americans play Senegal (2-2) next in the quarterfinals on Friday (July 9) at 10 a.m. CT, and with a win would advance to the semifinals on Saturday. The finals are scheduled for Sunday.

In this wire-to-wire win, the Americans came out strong, winning the first quarter 31-17 and ending the quarter on a 12-3 run over the final 1:41. Peyton Watson (Long Beach Poly H.S./Long Beach Calif.) came out ready, scoring seven points and grabbing three rebounds to get things started in the opening quarter.

“The opportunities came to me and I was ready when they did,” said Watson. “They decided to put me in the starting lineup, and I wanted to come out with a spark, and I think I contributed and played my part very well.”

In the second quarter, the USA opened the game up, going on a 13-0 run from the 6:04 mark to the 2:26 mark in the quarter and ended the final stanza on a 19-4 run to close the half.

Lofton went a perfect 6-of-6 from the field in the first half with 12 points and four rebounds to help lead the USA to a 59-30 advantage at halftime.

The USA had all 12 players score in the game and eight players finish with double-digit efforts. The Americans were led by Chet Holmgren (Minnehaha Academy/Minneapolis, Minn.) who recorded a double-double off the bench with 17 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and three blocks; Watson with a near double-double of 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists, one steal and a USA U19 record-tying four blocks.

“It felt like a lot of fun, we had a lot of guys play a great game and put up some great numbers and we had fun doing it,” said Holmgren. “We’re loving getting each other going and sharing the ball. We’re building confidence, building chemistry, finding our rhythm and I think things are going pretty well.”

The USA kept its foot on the gas in the second half, outscoring South Korea 29-16 in the third quarter, 45-14 in the fourth quarter, and 74-30 overall in the half. The Americans ended the final 4:23 of the game on a 23-4 run with Miller scoring eight points during that stretch.

The USA won the rebounding differential 62-25, dished out 39 assists, forced South Korea into 23 turnovers leading to 40 points, and outscored South Korea 94-30 in the paint.

The USA also recorded 10 blocked shots in the game, and currently leads the FIBA U19 World Cup in total blocks with 33. The USA also leads the FIBA U19 World Cup in total points (402), assists (111) and is second in total rebounds (224).