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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Men’s B-ball saves face, wins bronze

The U.S. men’s basketball team can console itself with two things: third place, and the highest point total of the Olympic tournament.

The Americans took the bronze-medal game seriously Saturday night and earned some revenge in a 104-96 victory over Lithuania.

Although they didn’t get what they wanted in Athens, they didn’t embarrass themselves in their finale, either.

“You want to win the whole thing, but you’ve got to cherish the fact that you were able to win something,” Allen Iverson said. “You come all the way over here to Greece and then go home with nothing? That’s a lot worse.”

Defeating one of three teams that beat them earlier in the tournament, the Americans got 22 points from Shawn Marion, 15 from Iverson and 14 apiece from Lamar Odom and Stephon Marbury.

Just like their quarterfinal victory over Spain, the key factor was outside shooting. After missing all five of their 3-point attempts in the first half, the Americans made eight in the second half. Four came in a fourth quarter that the U.S. team closed by scoring 21 of the final 35 points.

The 104 points was the most by any team in the men’s tournament, topping the 102 the U.S. team scored against Spain two nights earlier.

“I think we ought to be real positive about them and what they did, the commitment they made and the sacrifice they made,” U.S. coach Larry Brown said. “I said this before: This is the greatest time I ever had as a coach, and I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of a group of people after tonight than this group. It has not been easy.”

The start of the game was delayed 48 minutes after both teams arrived wearing white uniforms. It also included a second half that started with no coaches on the American bench: Brown emerged from the tunnel 50 seconds after play had started, and his assistants beat him out by only 30 seconds.

“They changed the clock on us, and I’ve got two new hips,” the 63-year-old Brown said. “We were in a slow jog trying to get here.”

Strange stuff, but not quite as weird as the Americans dropping three games after they had lost only two in the previous 68 years. It’s the first time since pro players were added for the 1992 Dream Team that the United States is going home without gold.

For the Lithuanian team, the defeat was the second in a row after it won its first six games. The loss denied them a fourth consecutive bronze medal.

“In general, fourth place is very good for a country like ours, but to lose the last two games hurts,” Sarunas Jasikevicius said. “Could have been better, could have been worse, I guess.”

The Americans were saying pretty much the same thing.

Wearing red after their replacement uniforms arrived before Lithuania’s, the Americans opened an early 22-13 lead and created fast-break opportunities with their pressure defense. But Lithuania answered with three consecutive 3-pointers — one of which became a four-point play — to take a 23-22 lead.

Tim Duncan stared at the referees in disbelief after his first foul, just as he had after almost every call against him during the tournament. When he was whistled for another moments later on what appeared to be a good call, he stood along the lane with his back to the basket and the referee while a Lithuanian player took his free throws.

Duncan stayed on the bench for the entire second quarter, which ended with the Americans ahead 49-44 after forcing 13 turnovers and making eight steals.

“I am about 95 percent sure my FIBA career is over,” Duncan said, using the acronym for the sport’s international governing body. “I’ll try not to share my experiences with anyone.”

Lithuania started hitting 3-pointers and opened a 65-58 lead in the third quarter before the United States came back with an 8-0 run. Duncan went to the bench with his fourth foul with 2:02 remaining in the third quarter and the score 67-67, and the Americans led 83-82 when he returned with 6:08 left.

A pair of 3-pointers by Marion and Odom came during a 9-3 run that put the Americans up for good, and their defense held Lithuania to just seven points in the final three minutes.

Lithuania went 21-for-37 on 3-pointers but committed 20 turnovers and 27 fouls.

“We wanted gold, but I’m taking anything right now. That’s the way it is,” Marion said. “Everybody wants to play for the gold. To come back and be motivated for (the bronze) was a big challenge for all of us. We had to dig deep inside of us. We did tonight. At least we’ll go home with something. We won’t go home empty-handed.”

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