By USA Basketball for MSNsportsNET.com
July 7, 2009
BELGRADE, Serbia - In an exciting finish to a game that featured 14 lead changes, the 2009 USA Men's World University Games Team (4-0) remained perfect after edging host Serbia (3-1) 68-66 on Tuesday night in Belgrade, Serbia. Talor Battle (Penn State / Albany, N.Y.) was the USA's leading scorer with 17 points, Da'Sean Butler (West Virginia / Newark, N.J.) finished with 12 and Corey Fisher (Villanova / Bronx, N.Y.) posted eight, including a free throw with 5.3 seconds in the game for the USA's final point of the contest.
The USA will face off against Bulgaria (3-1) in the July 9 medal quarterfinals with the winner advancing to the July 10 semifinals. The gold medal will be contested on July 11. In the other quarterfinals contests, Serbia will play Turkey (4-0), Lithuania (5-0) meets up against Russia (4-1), and Israel (5-0) will tip-off against Germany (2-2). Should the U.S. continue to advance, the American men will face the winner of the Lithuania versus Russia quarterfinal contest.
"A game comes down to what seems like an eternity that last minute, the last 30 seconds, the last nine seconds," said USA and University of Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan. "But it's all the things that happened before that really are important. In order for us to get accomplished what we want to accomplish, we have to give ourselves a better chance by taking care of the ball and rebounding a little better. They struggled some and we struggled some because both teams were playing so hard against each other. We happened to be two points up, a little more than them, but there are still a lot tougher games ahead."
The game, which saw the U.S. take its highest lead with six points and Serbia own no more than a five-point advantage, was close throughout. The USA trailed after the first quarter, 18-15, but pulled ahead with one second to go before the midway buzzer after Battle drove to the hoop to put the Americans up 37-36.
The third quarter saw both teams score 20 points each, and with 10 minutes remaining in the game, the U.S. was up 57-56.
Serbia, which took advantage of a deafening crowd, put the pressure on defensively and forced the United States to a string of eight missed shots to open the final stanza. After missing its first two shots of the half and coughing up the ball twice, Serbia went ahead 58-57 at 7:42 and two minutes later held a 62-57 advantage. However, the USA never stopped fighting and at 4:40 Fisher drove to the basket for the red, white and blue's first points in the final period. That bucket fueled a spurt that saw Robbie Hummel (Purdue / Valparaiso, Ind.) pull up for a jumper and Battle nail a three as the U.S. went ahead again, 64-62, with less than three minutes to go.
The U.S. never again trailed, however, Serbia would not give in without a final fight. Nemanja Protic hit his second of two free throws at 2:30, making it a one-point game, 64-63.
With 1:36 to go in the contest Battle nailed his final three of the game. But Serbia countered with a three just eight seconds later, and it was again a one-point game, 67-66, with 1:28 remaining.
"Early in the game, coach talked about coming off the ball screen," said Battle. "I was really trying to take my time and focus on getting that guy on my hip and then attacking. I got some easy baskets, and after a while, they started chasing and I was able to step back and hit some threes. I was just playing with a lot of confidence."
After both sides were unable to convert on possessions, Battle drove through a sea of defenders and was fouled going to the basket. With 11.6 seconds to play, Battle missed both of his shots. But the ball was tipped out by Trevor Booker (Clemson / Whitmire, S.C.), who was the USA's leading rebounder with six, and Butler came up with the board, was fouled and sent to the line with 9.5 ticks remaining.
Butler was also unable to make his two tries, but Booker again got a finger on the rebound and tipped it back out. Fisher ended up with the ball and was sent straight to the line. He made the back end, and the hosts took a time out with 5.3 seconds to go.
"I missed a couple of shots tonight, and my teammates picked me up," said Fisher. "When I went to the line I had a lot of confidence. I missed the first, and I was just planning on making the second, and that's what I did. And we got a stop the next play. Everybody has their night, and tonight wasn't my night - tonight was a team night. We won the game. It was a close game, and I missed a free throw, but you just have to move on to the next play."
"I was just hoping we could knock down at least one," said Booker. "And (Corey) Fisher gave us that. That helped us out. They got a timeout and advanced the ball, but we got a stop, and they didn't score."