By Chris Kaftan
SOFIA, Bulgaria – The American men’s basketball team entered unfamiliar territory on Friday.
For the first time in 60 years, the United States will not compete for the gold in men’s basketball after a stunning 88-85 loss to Venezuela on Friday at Universiada Sports Hall.
The U.S. led 84-79 with 28 seconds left, but a 3-pointer by Venezuela’s Miguel Blanco cut the USA lead to two, and Blanco then made two free throws to tie it at 84-all.
American Layton Seeber made one of two free throws to put the Americans up, 85-84, with nine seconds remaining, but Blanco again made a jumper to give Venezuela a one-point lead, and a foul by the U.S. gave Venezuela another two points.
After the Venezuelan free throw, Danny Kelly inbounded the ball to Seeber, who in turn threw it to Robert Haney and Brandon McMillan.
It was too late. The clock expired, and the jubilant Venezuelan team rushed the court as the stunned U.S. bench stared at the floor in disbelief.
Despite leading in several statistical categories, the Americans were outplayed by a hungry Venezuela team that showed more hustle and desire to win.
“We simply beat ourselves,” head coach Keith Westhoelter said. “Hats off to a well-trained Venezuelan team that prepared six months for this.”
“They wanted it more than we did,” team captain Robert Haney said.
The U.S. had several opportunities to seal the victory, including during the third quarter when they led the game by 13 points.
Venezuela slowly chipped away at the U.S. lead by playing quick offense and outhustling the Americans on both ends of the court.
The U.S. pulled down 43 rebounds to Venezuela’s 37 but were outscored in the paint, with Venezuela scoring 52 points. Venezuela also outsprinted the Americans, with 20 fast-break points.
“We knew the Venezuelans were fast, and our defense wasn’t able to stop them today,” Westhoelter said.
The loss is Westhoelter’s third in his international coaching and playing career. All three losses were to Venezuela.
Haney led the U.S. with 22 points and 12 boards. Brandon McMillan had 16 points, and Luke Adams, Seeber and Danny Kelly had 11 points each.
Blanco and Jose Ojeda led Venezuela in scoring with 22 and 18 points, respectively.
The loss to Venezuela snaps the U.S.’s 82-game Deaflympic winning streak that started with its bronze medal win in the 1953 Brussels Deaflympics. In the subsequent 60 years, the U.S. won 14 straight gold medals.
The U.S. plays Ukraine for third place at 3 p.m. (8 a.m. ET) Saturday at Universiada Hall.