Serbs put U.S. in must-win
MANNHEIM, Germany — Faced with having to defeat the United States to stay in contention for a medal in the Albert Schweitzer International Youth Basketball Tournament, Serbia-Montenegro came up with a 70-percent solution Wednesday night.
Shooting 70 percent from the floor, including 83 percent in the second half, the Serbs defeated the U.S. team 112-98, relegating the Americans to a must-win game Thursday night against unbeaten Argentina after this edition of Stars and Stripes went to press.
“Everyone knows we can score,” said Providence-bound forward Desean White of Philadelphia. “We just didn’t play defense.”
To be fair to a U.S. team that had shown its defensive abilities earlier in the tournament, the Serbs exploited their status as a year-round national team, moving the ball crisply and regularly finding the open man for a layup.
Unlike the Americans, brought together April 4 and playing two practice games before this tournament, the Serbs are battle-tested.
“We had qualification games for the European championships [in July] before this tournament,” Serbian coach Miodrag Kadija said through an interpreter. “We’ve played 12 games in 15 days.”
The practice paid off as the Serbs, backed by a vocal, flag-waving cheering section, used a 17-5 run midway through the third quarter to take a 76-61 lead with 3:03 left in the period and leave the Americans scrambling.
Three Serbs scored more than 20 points, led by 6-11 center Nemanja Aleksandrov with 26. Their team play was also demonstrated by its 25 assists. The U.S. managed just nine.
“The Serbs played extremely good basketball,” U.S. coach Dick McCann said, “but we’re still in it. We have to win [Thursday] and we’re in the semis.”
In addition to its defensive problems, the U.S. suffered from foul problems, particularly to its best player, Villanova-bound point guard Kyle Lowry of Philadelphia. He picked up two fouls in the first 2:05 and sat for the rest of the first half.
A well-rested Lowry used his quickness to penetrate the Serb defense and score 18 of the 28 U.S. points in the third quarter, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Americans from falling behind. Lowry continued his onslaught with 15 fourth-quarter points en route to a game-high 35.
Fouls also slowed the U.S. big men, BYU-bound David Burgess of Irvine, Calif., and junior Tyrell Biggs of Ramsey, N.J.
Burgess, one of the heroes in Tuesday night’s victory over Italy, picked up three fouls in the second quarter and his fourth with 3:50 left in the third. He scored four points and grabbed six rebounds in 12 minutes of playing time. Biggs, who scored 20 points Wednesday, picked up two first-quarter fouls that limited his playing time to 22½ minutes.
Even so, the Americans outrebounded Serbia-Montenegro 41-30 and outscored it 26-9 on second-chance baskets. Trouble was, the Serbs rarely needed a second chance: That first chance was all they needed about 70 percent of the time.
Still, Serb coach Kadija said, “It was a hard game.”
White said he expected a better effort against Argentina, which downed the Serbs 94-89 on Monday and Poland 78-55 on Wednesday to remain unbeaten.
“We got to watch them for three quarters [on Wednesday],” White said. “I actually do think we match up well with them. Our guards are better than their guards. We just have to play hard-nosed defense for 40 minutes.”