By Chris Kaftan
SOFIA, Bulgaria — The U.S. men’s basketball team hurdled a tough opening challenge on its road to a 15th gold medal with a resounding victory against Slovenia, the 2012 European Deaf champions, 77-62 at Universiada Sports Hall.
The Americans scored first and never looked back, leading the entire game often by double digits until the second half, when Slovenia came within three points with 2:56 remaining.
“It was a tough opening match to draw Slovenia for our first match, but we responded very well,” head coach Keith Westhoelter said. “We did a great job with our defense, especially during the fourth quarter.”
Robert Haney led the American attack with a double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds, followed by Danny Kelly with 20 points and seven rebounds.
As the team’s primary point guard, first-time Deaflympian Luke Adams controlled the tempo of the game with 11 points, five steals, and just one turnover.
The U.S., on the other hand, reaped 23 points from Slovenia’s 16 turnovers.
The U.S. put on a defensive show in the fourth quarter, allowing just nine points while scoring 17 points to seal the win. They also had the rebounding advantage, with 38 total.
“We kept our emotions in check and controlled the flow of the game,” Adams said. “We ran our plays and focused on organized basketball and that’s what the key was to our win today.”
Slovenia’s Miha Zupan, a 6’8 forward, was one of the Americans’ primary targets.
Zupan played for Slovenia in the 2012 London Olympics and guarded Kevin Durant of the NBA’s Oklahoma Thunder in the Olympics last summer. Zupan had 18 points and 12 rebounds in Thursday’s loss.
“The team was extra nervous at first,” said Danny Kelly. “We didn’t expect to face Slovenia first, but we played smart, kept our emotions and played together as a team.”
Brandon McMillian had 11 points and five rebounds, and center Orion Palmer chipped in with eight points.
The U.S. next plays the Republic of Kenya on Saturday, July 27.
Kenya won the African championships and faces the Americans for the first time in Deaflympics history.
Tip-off is set for noon Bulgarian time.
For a photo album from this event, please visit our Facebook page at Men’s Basketball: U.S. vs. Slovenia.