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VIERNHEIM, Germany – Although the U.S. team fell out of medal contention at the 26th biennial Albert Schweitzer international youth basketball tournament via a 92-81 loss to Spain, Wednesday night was the worst of times and just short of the best of times for the Americans.

“If there’s a graveyard in the neighborhood, I’d like to bury that first half,” said U.S. head coach Butch Estes of a 20-minute span which saw the Americans fall behind by as many as 26 points, “but I’d like to take that second half home. We won the second half by 13 points.”

The Americans built their second-half victory by playing with enough heart to make people think it was Valentine’s Day.

“I was proud of our team’s fight,” Estes said after his team cut its deficit to 16 by the end of the third 10-minute period, then made a determined fourth-period charge that carried them to four points down with 2:39 to play.

Nicholas Smith, a 6-8 forward from Bentonville, Ark., capped the Americans’ 21-9 run over that span with an and-one bucket off a precision feed from Derrick Willis of Mt. Pleasant, Ky., and sank the free throw.

“In the first half, we were a little out of it,” said Willis, a 6-9 forward. “In the second, we got our heads together.”

Willis, who along with Derrick Walton Jr. of Harper Woods, Mich., handed out a team-high five assists, and Smith were able to combine for the play down the lane because point guard Stevie Clark of Oklahoma City, who took game-scoring honors with 25 points, scored 11 of them over a 5:45 span of the final stanza. Between the 8:50 and 3:05 marks of the final 10 minutes, the 5-11 Clark sank a lay-up, completed a 3-point play on an impossible shot off the glass in the lane, swished two-of-three from behind the 3-point arc and earned a second and-one opportunity with a baseline dunk. His foul shot on that one, though, fell off the rim.

“You can’t say enough about Stevie,” Estes said. “He’s been battling the flu.”

Spain, however, righted the ship on consecutive dunks by 6-10 center Ilimane Diop, who led his team with 18 points. He had a third late dunk on an alley-oop pass from Josep Perez with 42 seconds to go.

The Americans fell into their first-half hole because of superior Spanish rebounding and being forced into a perimeter game when the officials apparently couldn’t find their whistles when Spanish defenders hammered any American attempting to get to the rim.

“They were too big for us,” said U.S. team chief Eddie Ford as he examined the official score sheet which revealed a 51-32 rebounding edge for the Spaniards, who outscored the Americans 44-28 in the paint and 21-4 pn second-chance points. The discrepancies were even worse in the first half, which ended with Spain up 29-11 on the glass, 28-2 on points in the paint, and 16-2 on second- chance buckets.

From the perimeter, the Americans shot just 32 percent from the floor in the opening 20 minutes. However, 6-3 guard Darryl Hicks of Louisville, who finished the game three-of-eight from the floor en route to an eight-point night, said the knowledge that his team was unlikely to reclaim any of his misses had no effect on his stroke.

“Half the time,” he said, “I think I’m going to make it.”

The loss left the Americans out in the cold in terms of medals for the sixth straight Schweitzer event no matter what happens when they take on Russia at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Waldsporthalle here. Serbia, which rallied from a seven-point first-half deficit to down the Americans 78-68 on Monday and which beat Russia 65-64 on Wednesday, and Spain clinched berths in Friday’s semifinals.

The Americans, who’ll play at Mannheim’s MWS Halle am Herzogenried Saturday morning for fifth place with a win and seventh place with a loss to Russia, were left to contemplate what might have been.

“We needed to put two halves together,” Hicks said, referring to Monday’s first 20 and Wednesday’s second 20 minutes.

Added Willis, an 11-point scorer along with Austin Nichols of Memphis, “We could have beat Spain.”

The box score:

Spain 92, U.S.A. 81Quarterfinal pool game Wednesday at Viernheim, GermanyU.S.A. .......13 14 29 25—81Spain .......25 24 23 20—92Scoring—USA: Stevie Clark 25, Austin Nichols 11, Derek Willis 11, Derrick Walton Jr. 10, Darryl Hicks 8, Steve Haney Jr. 7, Nicholas Smith 5, Collin Hartman 3, Deontaye Curtis 1; Spain: Ilimane Diop 18, Albert Horris 17, Guillermo Hernangomez 11, Javier Marin 11, Edgar Vicedo 11, Josep Perez 10, Juan Sebastian Saiz 10, Alberto Diaz 2, Sergio Hernandez 1, Oriol Pauli 1. Reounding—USA—32 (Willis 5, Clark 4, Curtis 4); Spain—51 (Hernangomez 12, Saiz 9). Assists—USA 13 (Walton 5, Willis 5); Spain—21 (Perez 5, Hernangomez 4, Horris 4). Total fouls—USA 19; Spain 18.

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