The 2007 USA Basketball U19 World Championship Team (8-0) fell behind early and spent the rest of the game battling back to nip France (5-3) 78-75 in the medal semifinal contest at the 2007 FIBA U19 World Championship on Saturday night in Novi Sad, Serbia. The U.S. will face host Serbia (7-1) in tomorrow’s gold medal contest (12:30 p.m. EDT), while Brazil (4-4), which lost to Serbia earlier in the evening 89-74, will meet France in the bronze medal game.
Deon Thompson (North Carolina / Torrance, Calif.) was the USA’s top scorer and rebounder with a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds, including six points and three rebounds in the final minutes. Patrick Beverley (Arkansas / Chicago, Ill.) and Raymar Morgan (Michigan State / Canton, Ohio) came up with 13 points each and Michael Beasley (Notre Dame Prep, Mass./ Frederick, Md.), who was whistled for his second foul when the game was just three minutes old, had 11 points.
"We were just making stops and they were making turnovers," said Thompson. "We were getting stops and actually getting the ball in the bucket. My shots just started falling today. Everyday I try to keep playing solid and things are working."
"In all honesty I felt we were a little too hyped up and it almost worked against us," said USA and DePaul University head coach Jerry Wainwright. "We tried to make some plays. It wasn’t selfishness, everybody wanted to win the game and everyone was trying to win it themselves. What we tried to do is keep the pressure on them. It’s almost unbearable how hot it is. We felt that if we kept the pressure on and kept subbing (we would win)."
Trailing since early in the fourth quarter, the United States with 4:03 to play was looking at a five-point, 73-68 deficit. Ten seconds later Morgan took a feed from Beverley that got the U.S. started on its final comeback push. After a couple of possessions on which neither squad was able to score, Stephen Curry (Davidson / Charlotte, N.C.) came up with a defensive rebound, ran the floor and popped up a jumper that missed its mark. However, Thompson was there for the put-back to cut the gap to 73-72.
On the other end, Curry picked up his third foul at 2:30. However, Ludovic Vaty missed both tries. As the U.S. offense sprinted the court, Beverly missed his shot, but Thompson was right where he needed to be for the board and bucket, giving the United States its first lead since the opening minute, 74-73, with 2:22 to play.
"It was big because we were fighting back the whole game," said Curry. "To take that lead, that got us going on the defensive end to make a lot of key stops down the stretch. It was a big bucket just to get us ahead and make us work harder on defense."
Morgan fouled out as France’s Adrien Moerman was heading to the hoop. Moerman hit both shots to give France a one-point edge and the last lead it would own.
On the USA’s next possession, Thompson went inside for two points and the final lead change of the game,
76-75, at 1:47. Beverley picked a Frenchman’s pocket and the result was a Curry jumper with 1:21 to go for the final points of the night, 78-75.
"Some guys made some incredible plays," said Wainwright. "Deon Thompson brought his game to another level. I had a feeling that Stephan would get a shot in. He missed some open looks and he’s a very confident kid. I kept going back to him and he really showed confidence in himself. I’m really proud of him."
France couldn’t connect on its next possession, but got a second tries as it picked up the offensive board. Thompson got the ball on the second miss, Beverley shot up the court and missed a 3-pointer with 30 seconds on the clock.
Antoine Diot attempted a 3-pointer that didn’t fall, giving the USA the ball back. But the Americans threw away the ball on the offensive end, allowing France 14 seconds for a final attempt. The Europeans got the ball up the court and Diot threw up an off-balanced three that was rebounded by Curry and the U.S. held onto the ball for the win.
"France came out with a lot more intensity than us," said Beverley. "We came out kind of on our heels, we weren’t ready for what they had. I can’t speak down about France, they came out and it’s either win or go home so they came out and played a real tough game. I think, as a team, all the players put our egos aside. I really think we came together and played as a team and got the job done today."
France ran out to a 10-5 lead in the opening 5:37 and the United States spent almost the rest of the game clawing its way back. Trailing 19-12 at the first quarter break, the U.S. found itself down by as many as 12 points before halftime, but was able to cut it back to seven, 37-30, by the midway point.
In the second half, each time the Americans tried to make a run at France, they would get stopped short of their goal. In the third quarter the red, white and blue cut it as close as one point, 48-47 at 4:05, but France battled back and by 1:07 opened it back to 10 points, 59-49. But Morgan swished in two points and Thompson hit a pair of free throws to end the quarter down 59-53.
France expanded its lead to double digits again, 67-56, with 7:03 to play in the game. The USA turned up the defensive pressure, which resulted in a pair of steals in a 10-5 run that ended with a Beverley traditional 3-point play at 4:47 and the score standing at 69-66.
The USA outrebounded France 43-33, but had trouble shooting the ball. The U.S., which through seven games had shot 33.9 percent from 3-point land, went as cold as the arena was hot and connected on just 14.8 percent (4-27 3pt Fgs). The Americans have to adjust their play for the international game and whistles. The squad was called for 23 fouls, sending the opponents to the line for a total of 27 attempts.
Wainwright, who served as an assistant for the 2006 USA U18 National Team, is heading up the 2007 USA U19 World Championship Team coaching staff, and collegiate head coaches Bruiser Flint of Drexel University (Pa.) and George Washington University’s (D.C.) Karl Hobbs are serving as assistant coaches.