U.S. team rises to late Turkish challenge


ISTANBUL, Reuters

The U.S. men’s basketball team beat Turkey 79-67 on Sunday, fighting off a late challenge from the hosts as they looked to build up momentum ahead of the Olympic Games later this month.

Tim Duncan was top scorer for the U.S. with 16 points, followed by Allen Iverson on 13, while Lamar Odom scored nine and Richard Jefferson added eight.

The U.S. team has made steady progress since its 95-78 thrashing at the hands of Italy last Tuesday.

They narrowly beat Germany 80 77 and then put in their most impressive performance of their European tour to beat Serbia and Montenegro 78-60.

However, Sunday’s game against a largely young and inexperienced Turkish side showed they have more work to do if they are to live up to the high expectations which come with the “dream team” tag and win the gold medal in Athens.

“It was a good experience for us because we are going to have teams like this, when you are in some adversity and teams start making shots against us. You’ve got to learn to deal with the pressure,” head coach Larry Brown said.

Turkey appeared overawed in the early stages, committing too many turnovers and missing shots to end the half down 41-29. They fought back strongly in the second half, narrowing the deficit to three points with little over three minutes left.

Brown paid tribute to the noisy Turkish crowd, whose fervent support stirred the second half recovery. He said his players showed great poise in coping with the pressure, helped by key free throws and an assist from Jefferson.

“I think we’re getting better as a team. The Turkish team did a great job of coming back into the game. We got rattled there for a little bit. They started knocking down shots and playing good defense,” Jefferson said.

History weighs heavy on the team. The U.S. have won the last three basketball gold medals and 12 of the 14 Olympics they have competed in. Since the Olympics were opened to NBA players in 1992, the U.S. team have gone on a 25-0 winning streak.

Allen Iverson, the oldest and most experienced player, said he was confident about the team’s ability in attack and the focus of attention on Sunday was defense.

“The key tonight was us playing together defensively. We don’t worry too much about our offense,” he said.

In the face of the strong U.S. defense, Turkey’s comeback depended heavily on three-point shots.

Turkish captain Ibrahim Kutluay was the game’s top scorer with 19 points, while Serkan Erdogan poured in 17, with the two scoring five three-pointers each. NBA player Mehmet Okur added 14.

By contrast, the U.S. did not score any three-point shots.

Ultimately their pace and strength was too much for the home side, which will have a chance to get revenge on Tuesday when the U.S. will play its last game before heading to Athens.