CARACAS (FIBA Americas Championship/FIBA Basketball World Cup) - Puerto Rico rallied from a 22-point deficit to edge out Venezuela
86-85 after overtime and become the first team at the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship to qualify for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
In a thrilling encounter, Jose Juan Barea stunned the 13,000 full house at "El Poliedro" Coliseum with key three-pointers down the stretch and finished with 30 points, while Renaldo Balkman had 26 and 12 rebounds.
Donta Smith had 26 points and 13 rebounds and Luis Bethelmy added a dozen for Venezuela, who looked in control of the game in the first half.
They led 28-11 at the end of the first quarter, before stretching that advantage to 37-15 early in the second period and going into the break with a 43-28 cushion.
But Puerto Rico stormed back in the second half, outscoring the home side 31-21 in the third quarter and 22-15 in the final frame.
Barea hit a three-pointer to get his team within 77-73 with 1:46 left to play. He then made one of two free-throws and connected again from beyond the arc to close the gap to 79-77.
Balkman scored inside with 39 seconds remaining to tie the game at 79-79 and Smith missed a shot for the win in the final seconds of regulation.
In the overtime, Balkman once again scored in the paint to put Puerto Rico up 81-79, but Axiers Sucre scored at the other end to tie it up again.
Barea hit his seventh three-pointer of the night to put the Boricuas up 84-81 and Sucre answered immediately to cut it to 84-83.
Balkman scored with 51 seconds left for 86-83 and Smith made a pair of free-throws that got Venezuela within 86-85 with 27 seconds.
The overtime finished in a mad scramble with Smith turning the ball over as Barea got a steal but missed a free-throw before Smith's three-point attempt at the death was off.
With the win, Puerto Rico improved to 5-1 in the Second Round and have accumulated 11 points to top the standings.
They have booked their place in the tournament's Semi-Finals and as a result become the first team to punch its ticket for Spain 2014.
The remaining three Semi-Finalists - who will also qualify for the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain next year - will be determined on Sunday, the last day of the Second Round.
Mexico boosted their chances of joining Venezuela in the Semi-Finals and in Spain by winning their third game in a row, in a 100-89 defeat of Jamaica.
The Mexicans became the first team to score 100 points in the tournament as they improved to 4-2 and have won all three of their Second Round games.
Hector Hernandez was on fire as he scored a team-high 25 points while Orlando Mendez added 22.
The defeat for Jamaica saw them drop to 1-5 and ended their hopes of being in the running for the Semi-Finals.
They played without key player Samardo Samuels, who cut short his involvement with the national team after signing with Milan in the Italian League. His absence has given Jerome Jordan more playing opportunities and he made the most of them on Saturday night, scoring 22 points. Akeem Scott went for 18.
In a South American match-up, Argentina got their first win of the Second Round by beating Uruguay
89-63 to mathematically keep their hopes of reaching the Semi-Finals alive.
Luis Scola had 17 points and Adrian Boccia contributed 16 points off the bench.
For Uruguay, Nicolas Mazzarino scored 14 points as his team fell to 1-5 and was eliminated from the race to to Spain.
Argentina improved to 3-3 and can still advance but first must beat a strong Canada team on Sunday.
The Canadians lost for the second night in a row, falling to a Dominican Republic side that had gone all out the night before to beat Puerto Rico.
On Saturday, the Dominicans won 81-74 to improve to 4-2.
James Feldeine had 20 points and Francisco Garcia contributed with 17.
Andrew Nicholson had a game-high 29 points and Tristan Thompson had 14 points as Canada dropped to 3-3.
On Sunday, the remaining three Semi-Finalists and the last three qualifying places for Spain 2014 will be determined. The Dominican Republic, Mexico, Canada, Argentina and hosts Venezuela are still in the running.
Uruguay take on the Dominican Republic in the first game of the day, followed by a clash between Canada and Argentina. Puerto Rico face off against Mexico and the Second Round comes to a close with Jamaica going up against hosts Venezuela.
For full and in-depth coverage of the 2013 FIBA Americas Championship, go to the official website http://www.caracas2013.com/en/default.asp?lang=en.