BASKETBALL: U.S. edged by Serbia, 94-89 in World Cup, will play Poland for seventh place

Serbia's Bogdan Bogdanovic was unstoppable against the U.S. (Photo: FIBA)

After winning 24 consecutive games in FIBA World Cup play over 13 years, the U.S. men’s basketball team lost for the second time in two days, falling to Serbia, 94-89, in Dongguan (CHN) in the bracket for places 5-8.

This was an amazing game, with the U.S. suffering a terrible hangover from its loss to France in the quarterfinals on Wednesday and trailing 32-7 after the first quarter, thanks to 3-16 shooting.

But the American squad battled back, went on a 16-2 run to get to within 36-26, then finished the half outscoring Serbia by six more points to trail, 44-40, at halftime.

The Serb lead was extended to 10 in the third quarter, but the U.S. came back again to finish with a one-point edge in the period and down, 71-68, entering the final quarter.

Serbia went on a 7-0 run to start the quarter and was up by 10 again with 7:25 to go. But Kemba Walker got the U.S. within six at 87-81 with 2:44 to play. Serb guard Bogdan Bogdanovic scored the next four points, but Harrison Barnes and Walker made three-pointers to get to 91-87 with 59 seconds to go.

But Bogdanovic made one free throw and Nikola Jokic made two to extend the lead to 94-87; Joe Harris and Myles Turner each made one of two in the final minute to finish the game at 94-89.

Bogdanovic was the show with 28 points, followed by Vladimir Lucic (15) and Vasilije Micic (10); Serbia shot 52.4% from the floor. Barnes had 22 for the U.S., with 18 from Walker and 16 from Khris Middleton (who also had a team-high six rebounds). The U.S. shot poorly again, at 43.7%, but shot 50.9% (28-55) in the final three quarters. (Boxscore)

“It was a tough turnaround and I guess it showed,” said U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich. “If you miss that many shots, it’s a lot of defensive transition and at the same time Bogdan was on fire. So, we got him to hold but, I can’t tell you how much I have been impressed the whole time by their character, their stick-to-itiveness and persistence as they learn how to play together. Tonight was a great example of that.”

Said Barnes, “I think there are no regrets from our group in terms of what we’ve given, what we sacrificed, the commitment that everyone has made away from their families, teams, organizations, all of that.

“For us, we have to sit with that, get some rest and, on Saturday, we have that opportunity to go out there once again, play a game, represent our country. For some of us, potentially all of us, it could be the last time we wear a USA jersey, or the beginning of many, so I think we just have to savor that opportunity.”

The U.S. will play Poland for seventh place on Saturday; the Poles lost to the Czech Republic, 94-84, in the other 5-8 bracket semi. Thus the Czechs, who finished behind the U.S. in group play, will finish ahead in the final standings.

No matter whether seventh or eighth, this will be the worst-ever finish for a U.S. men’s team in the World Cup. The prior low was sixth in 2002 – when the tournament was played in the U.S. – with fifth-place finishes in 1970 and 1978.

The championship semifinals will be played on Friday in Beijing, with Argentina facing France and Spain vs. Australia. The French are a slight 9/5 betting choice to win, followed by Spain at 9/5 and Australia at 13/4; Argentina is 8/1.