WUHAN, China –
Going into the gold-medal game, USA men’s basketball coach Micah Bonner knew the Lithuania team was “fundamentally strong” and attacked the baskets hard. They had beat host China the night before.
“It’s going to take heart,” he said. “We’re going to have to dig deep.” The plan was to wear the opponents down through fast breaks after securing the rebounds and take advantage of a deep bench to keep the pace going.
Problem was the Lithuanians seemed to have the same strategy, Bonner said after the game, and they executed it well. USA ended up with the silver medal after Lithuania edged them 91-83 for the gold.
USA jumped out to a strong start, ending the first quarter in the lead 20-14, thanks to the inside strength of Derrell Henderson, the ball-handling of Tilman Dunbar and shooting of Worth Smith, who hit one outside the paint to end the period.
Henderson had a total of 26 points in the game, Smith 20, and Dunbar 19. Ronald Rhea was 2 for 2 on three-pointers, Bryan Baptistie netted 7 points and Jacob Van had 5.
Lithuania’s Ignas Lukosius had 16 of his 20 points during the first half, and was their only scorer of note during the first quarter. But Mindaugas Susinskas came in strong the second half, scoring 28 of his 35 points the last two quarters, along with three other Lithuanians who ended the game in double digits.
The USA players battled hard to the end though, Bonner said, adding he was proud they never gave up.
“You played your guts out – played your hearts out,” USA assistant coach Rodnic Ward told the players after the game, adding they even played through injuries. For instance, Smith injured his finger and had to be pulled for a while, but went back in fighting hard.
USA bested the Lithuanians in free throws, netting 88% of their foul shots, compared to Lithuania’s 73%. But USA brought down 45 rebounds to Lithuania’s 55 and the opponents made it count.
In the end, USA’s speed couldn’t beat Lithuania’s height, Ward said, but added taking home silver was something to be proud about. The team had started the tournament with a tough loss against China, but bounced back to win four straight and make it to the championship game.