Puerto Rico punches its ticket to 2nd round of World Cup

PUERTO RICO– According to the Associated Press, Puerto Rico couldn’t even begin qualifying for this World Cup at home two years ago, forced to move its opening game to Florida because of the damage that Hurricane Maria inflicted on the island. It was undeterred then. It is in the World Cup’s second round now. Gary Browne’s 3-pointer with 5.1 seconds left capped a 15-4 run to end the game, and Puerto Rico beat Tunisia 67-64 in a contest that decided the second spot in the second round out of Group C in Guangzhou, China. The win ensures that Puerto Rico (2-1) will have its best World Cup finish since at least 2002, and earned the team a second-round opener in Wuhan, China, on Friday. “Thank God we came up with the win,” Browne said. “We’ve been working very hard for what we have right now.” Browne ran down the shot clock, faked a drive, stepped back and hit the shot that gave Puerto Rico its first and only lead of the final quarter. Renaldo Balkman led Puerto Rico with 14 points and David Huertas — who made a transition 3-pointer from the left wing to tie the game with 1:37 left — finished with 10. Salah Mejri and Omar Abada each scored 14 for Tunisia (1-2), which was bidding for its first trip to the second round of the World Cup. Michael Roll scored 13 and Makram Ben Romdhane had 12 for Tunisia, which led 60-52 with 8:30 remaining. “Players win and coaches lose,” said Tunisia coach Mario Palma, whose club not only missed out on a second-round World Cup berth but also would have qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with a victory. Puerto Rico opened its World Cup qualifying run with a game in Orlando, Florida, against the U.S. in November 2017, since the issues caused by Maria — a Category 4 storm when it hit Puerto Rico, killing around 3,000 people — could not be solved in time to play in San Juan. The Puerto Ricans wound up playing their other five home games of qualifying as scheduled, going 5-0 in San Juan.