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July 7, 2009
BELGRADE, SERBIA, July 7, 2009 - Now the world knows what Penn State fans have known for some time, with big games on the line Talor Battle (Albany, N.Y.) rises to the occasion. The Nittany Lion point-guard went 7-of-12 from the floor, 3-of-6 from three, and posted a game-high 17 points Tuesday to lead Team USA to a thrilling 68-66 victory over host team Serbia at the 2009 World University Games in Belgrade.
The Nittany Lion's clutch three with 2:55 left in the game gave Team USA a 64-62 lead and silenced a pro-Serbian crowd of 14,000. After Serbia closed to within one, Battle hit another big three with 1:36 to play to stake the USA to a four-point lead. Team USA went on to improve to 4-0 by downing a Serbian team that had beaten it handily, 98-82, in exhibition action just over a week ago. Battle added one rebound and one assist in the game. Da'Sean Butler (West Virginia) added 12 points for Team USA, the only other American in double-digits. Serbia was led by 14 points from Ivan Paunic and 13 points from Milan Macvan and Miroslav Raduljica.
The USA will face off against Bulgaria (3-1) on Thursday in medal quarterfinals with the winner advancing to the Saturday, July 10 semifinals. The gold medal will be contested on Sunday, July 11. In the other quarterfinals contests, Serbia (3-1) will play Turkey (4-0), Lithuania (5-0) meets up against Russia (4-1), and Israel (5-0) will tip-off against Germany (2-2). Should the U.S. continue to advance, the American men will face the winner of the Lithuania versus Russia quarterfinal contest.
The game, which saw the U.S. take its highest lead with six points and Serbia own no more than a five-point advantage, was close throughout with 14 lead changes. The USA trailed after the first quarter, 18-15, but pulled ahead with one second to go before the midway buzzer after Battle drove to the hoop to put the Americans up 37-36.
The third quarter saw both teams score 20 points each, and with 10 minutes remaining in the game, the U.S. was up 57-56.
Serbia, which took advantage of a deafening crowd, put the pressure on defensively and forced the United States to a string of eight missed shots to open the final stanza. After missing its first two shots of the half and coughing up the ball twice, Serbia went ahead 58-57 at 7:42 and two minutes later held a 62-57 advantage. However, the USA never stopped fighting and at 4:40 Fisher drove to the basket for the red, white and blue's first points in the final period. That bucket fueled a spurt that saw Robbie Hummel (Purdue / Valparaiso, Ind.) pull up for a jumper and Battle nail a three as the U.S. went ahead again, 64-62, with less than three minutes to go.
The U.S. never again trailed, however, Serbia would not give in without a final fight. Nemanja Protic hit his second of two free throws at 2:30, making it a one-point game, 64-63. With 1:36 to go in the contest Battle nailed his final three of the game. But Serbia countered with a three just eight seconds later, and it was again a one-point game, 67-66, with 1:28 remaining.
"Early in the game, coach talked about coming off the ball screen," said Battle. "I was really trying to take my time and focus on getting that guy on my hip and then attacking. I got some easy baskets, and after a while, they started chasing and I was able to step back and hit some threes. I was just playing with a lot of confidence."
After both sides were unable to convert on possessions, Battle drove through a sea of defenders and was fouled going to the basket. With 11.6 seconds to play, Battle missed both of his shots. But the ball was tipped out by Trevor Booker (Clemson / Whitmire, S.C.), who was the USA's leading rebounder with six, and Butler came up with the board, was fouled and sent to the line with 9.5 ticks remaining.
Butler was also unable to make his two tries, but Booker again got a finger on the rebound and tipped it back out. Fisher ended up with the ball and was sent straight to the line. He made the back end, and the hosts took a time out with 5.3 seconds to go.
"A game comes down to what seems like an eternity that last minute, the last 30 seconds, the last nine seconds," said USA and University of Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan. "But it's all the things that happened before that really are important. In order for us to get accomplished what we want to accomplish, we have to give ourselves a better chance by taking care of the ball and rebounding a little better. They struggled some and we struggled some because both teams were playing so hard against each other. We happened to be two points up, a little more than them, but there are still a lot tougher games ahead."