May leads USA to gold medal

The USA World Championship For Young Men Qualifying Team (5-0) fought to the finish in order to polish off Puerto Rico (3-2) 97-86 in the gold medal contest of the FIBA Americas World Championship For Young Men Qualifying Tournament Sunday night in Halifax, Canada.

It was a total team effort as five players scored in double digits, including Sean May (North Carolina / Bloomington, Ind.) with 18 (and 8 rebounds), Curtis Withers (Charlotte / Charlotte, N.C.) poured in 17, Justin Gray (Wake Forest / Charlotte, N.C.) notched 13, Hassan Adams (Arizona / Los Angeles, Calif.) chipped in 12 points and Bracey Wright (Indiana / The Colony, Texas) had 10 points.

Argentina (4-1) collected the bronze medal with a 78-70 victory over host Canada (2-3).

The United States has now earned two golds (1996, 2004) and two silvers (1993, 2000) at this qualifying tournament that was first contested in 1993, while compiling an overall 20-2 win-loss record.

"We had to call a couple time outs there to get our focus," said USA and University of Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson, who now boasts a USA Basketball head coaching record of 11-6. "Sometimes a zone will lull you into a false sense of security. But once we started going back inside, we got refocused on defense. We had 51 points at halftime, offense wasn't our problem. Our problem was getting stops. We made some adjustments on (Washington Wizards' Peter) Ramos, he's a great player, but our kids did a lot better job of doubling him and rebounding in the second half. Putting Curtis Withers on him in the second half helped also."

Opening the fourth period strong, and holding a 75-71 edge after three quarters, the red, white and blue players knew they didn't put in two-a-days and physical practices since July 19 to go home with a silver medal. Adams was the first player to score and Gray lit the lamp for another three, followed by an Adams free throw and with 6:31 before the medal ceremony the United States was back up by 10, 81-71. Puerto Rico took a time out and upon returning to the court, Gabriel Colon was fouled on a basket and collected his bonus, leaving the score 81-74 at 6:18.

Withers was next up to the line and made a traditional 3-point play of his own to pad the USA's lead to 10 at 5:56. With 1:55 to go the United States still held a 10-point margin, 92-82. The U.S., knowing the clock was on its side, ate up the shot clock with passes and as the shot buzzer was about to sound Paul missed his shot, but Wright grabbed the offensive board, drove the lane and missed his shot. May was there for the rebound and put-back to put his squad up by 12 at 1:13. Puerto Rico was forced into a bad shot selection on the other end and Wright grabbed the carom. He passed it to Adams, who was fouled by Ramos on his attempted dunk with 49 seconds to go. Ramos, who finished the night with a game high 34 points, fouled out of the game at that point. Adams made the back end of his free throws to give the USA a 95-82 upper hand and virtually put the gold medal in the hands of the North Americans. Puerto Rico got a couple of baskets and Adams scored again for the U.S. as it came away with the gold medal.

The United States leapt to an 8-0 lead and by the 7:29 mark held a 12-2 edge to open the gold medal contest. However, in a game of spurts the tide turned and Puerto Rico scored eight unanswered points as its defense forced turnovers and missed shots on the other end. With 5:43 to play in the first quarter Puerto Rico trailed 12-10. It was the USA's turn next and at 3:57 the USA was up by 10 points, 20-10. By the end of the first quarter the USA ran up a 34-21 advantage as eight players scored, including nine from May, six from Chris Paul (Wake Forest / Lewisville, N.C.) and five apiece from P.J. Tucker (Texas / Raleigh, N.C.) and Wright.

Puerto Rico would not go quietly onto the silver medal stand and after the USA went up 38-21 to start the second, the islanders went to work. Upping the defensive pressure, Puerto Rico by the 2:11 mark closed the gap to five, 46-41 and at the half the USA's lead was whittled to 51-47.

The U.S. came out of its locker room inspired. The squad won the tip and Withers was fed a back door pass from Gray at 9:33. Puerto Rico answered with a three to make it 53-50, the closest the islanders would come to their lofty goal, at 8:43. The U.S. shot 2-of-13 from beyond the arc in the first half overall, but on its next two possessions Paul found Gray in the left corner beyond the arc. Withers then nabbed the ball right out of Peter Ramos' hands, ran the length of the court and slammed home two points. Adams was the beneficiary of a U.S. steal on Puerto Rico's next possession and at 7:08 the U.S. seemed to own the game 63-50 at 7:08.

Buckets were swapped over the next four minutes and at 3:10 the United States was still up by 13 points, 73-60. However, Puerto Rico clamped down on the USA's offense and with 1:36 remaining in the third, pulled to within striking distance, 73-69. By the end of three, the U.S. held a slim 75-71 margin.

Sampson is being assisted on the sidelines by collegiate head coaches Tom Crean of Marquette University (Wis.) and Dan Monson of the University of Minnesota.

The World Championship For Young Men and its zone qualifying tournaments are held every four years. Originally held in 1993 and known as the FIBA 22 And Under World Championship, it was designed for men 22-years-old or younger. FIBA lowered the age eligibility to 21-years-old or younger in December 1998 and changed the competition name to the World Championship For Young Men. The USA has qualified for all three previous World Championship For Young Men tournaments and has compiled a 22-2 overall record, while winning gold medals in 1993 and 2001.

Athletes eligible for selection to this age-based team include any male who is a U.S. citizen and is 20-years-old or younger (born on or after Jan. 1, 1984).

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