Things were looking down for the United States.
It had blown a double-digit, second-half lead and Patric Young had missed a pair of free throws with 7.3 seconds left in regulation that would have iced the game. After Lithuania’s Arnas Butkevicius sent the game to overtime on a last-second basket, the US U19 squad fell behind by six midway through the extra period.
But riding a pair of ferocious dunks from Young in the final minutes and a game-winning jumper from Jeremy Lamb, the Americans closed out the contest on a 12-4 run to capture the 107-105 win this morning in Latvia in a matchup between the two top teams at the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship.
The win came just one week after the United States had been embarrassed by Lithuania – considered the US’s top competition for the gold medal – in a 33-point exhibition loss.
The victory also improved the United States to 5-0 in the tournament and guaranteed the squad a spot in the quarterfinals, which begin this Friday.
But before the US continues on its quest for the gold, let’s take a minute to evaluate the key players from this morning’s contest.
Jeremy Lamb: A-
On top of sinking a turnaround 17-footer to win the game, Lamb carried the US offense throughout the contest. The rising UConn sophomore finished with a game-high 35 points on five-of-seven shooting from deep. At times however, it seemed that Lamb was content to watch from the corner as Joe Jackson ran the offense. As the US moves deeper in the tournament, I’d like to see Lamb demand the ball more in late-game situations.
Patric Young: B+
Young had a chance to end the game when he went to the free throw line with 7.3 seconds left in regulation and the US leading 94-92. Young missed both attempts and Lithuania responded by sending the game to OT. The rising Florida sophomore made up for his blunder in the extra frame, though, propelling the Americans to victory with seven points off three free throws and two slams in the overtime. If Young can continue to beast like he did this morning, the US will be a tough team to beat.
Joe Jackson: C+
Sure, Jackson finished with 19 points and was the United States’ second-leading scorer, but the rising Memphis sophomore took 22 shots and turned the ball over seven times – not exactly the numbers you want to see from your starting point guard. He settled for too many shots early in the shot clock rather than trying to initiate the offense. Jackson’s ability to attack the basket is a tremendous asset, but he needs to learn to pick his spots better.
Jonas Valanciunas: A-
Valanciunas showed why he warranted the No. 5 overall selection in the 2011 NBA Draft, notching 30 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field. He also pulled down a game-high 15 boards – nearly a third of Lithuania’s total rebounds. Valanciunas came up with a huge basket down the stretch, catching the ball on the left block with his back to the basket. He turned over his left shoulder and threw down a right-handed jam to put Lithuania up, 103-102. The 6-11 center might have earned an “A” if it wasn’t for his inability to stop Young in overtime. As long as Valanciunas continues to put up big numbers, Lithuania will continue to contend for the gold.
Edgaras Ulanovas: A-
Ulanovas had his biggest game of the tournament this morning. Coming off a six-point performance against Serbia, Ulanovas dropped 29 points. He scored at an unbelievably efficient rate, taking just 13 shots. However, he struggled holding onto the ball, finishing with four turnovers. If starting point guard Vytenis Cizauskas can return from his ankle injury, Ulanovas will be able to focus less on handling the ball and more on scoring.
What does the US need to do to win it all?
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