By Chris Kaftan
SOFIA, Bulgaria – The United States men’s basketball team used a strong third quarter to break open its bronze medal game against Ukraine en route to a 93-69 victory Saturday at Universiada Sports Hall.
The U.S. started the game sluggish and allowed Ukraine to maintain a lead throughout the first 15 minutes.
“We weren’t clicking during the first two quarters,” head coach Keith Westhoelter said. “Then the third quarter was ours.”
The United States used an 11-1 run to enter halftime up by one, 33-32, and never looked back.
Leading by as much as 24 points in the fourth quarter, the Americans used their dominant presence in the paint to pull down 11 offensive rebounds and score 50 points.
Danny Kelly had a double-double for the third time in these Deaflympics, with 25 points and 10 rebounds.
“We promised we wouldn’t leave Sofia without a medal,” team captain Robert Haney said. “Our performance tonight indicated that.”
Haney had 17 points, six rebounds, and four assists in the game.
In the fourth quarter, Westhoelter gathered his players for a few words.
“We have three minutes left, finish the game strong, and play hard,” he told them.
The Americans responded with solid defense on their half of the court throughout the last minutes of the game, allowing Ukraine just 20 points in the fourth quarter. The U.S. also forced a total of 19 turnovers.
With the bronze, the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team has medaled in 16 consecutive Deaflympics, a streak that started with a bronze in 1953 and went on to include 14 straight gold medals before a stunning loss to Venezuela in Friday’s semifinal.
Venezuela itself was upset by Lithuania in the gold medal match Saturday.
When asked about 2017, Haney said, “We need to work hard and focus on making this a more cohesive team.
“We will be back,” he promised.