By Chris Kaftan
SOFIA, Bulgaria – Layton Seeber’s right hand blew open a very close and tense match between the U.S. and Russia men’s basketball teams, with the Americans escaping, 93-64, Tuesday at Universiad Sports Hall.
Seeber had a performance to remember in the fourth quarter, hitting five consecutive three-pointers to push the Americans on a 25-0 run that advanced them to the quarterfinals as the top seed in their pool.
The U.S. won the game largely due to defense, bench depth and speed.
Led by point guard Luke Adams and his 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting, including five 3-pointers, the U.S. relied heavily on speed to outlast the Russians.
The Americans opened the game very tense, making three fouls in 50 seconds and forcing head coach Keith Westhoelter to tell his troops to focus and maintain their composure.
Several players still got into foul trouble early in the first half, including Danny Kelly. The U.S. had 15 fouls in the first half alone.
“I emphasized to the team that they need to play hard, honest defense, with no fouls,” Westhoelter said.
“We struggled with fouls, that’s for certain,” he said. “I told the team during halftime to keep moving during offense and to keep our defense honest.”
After halftime, the U.S. continued its intense defense, with solid rebounding from the twin towers of Orion Palmer and Bradley Miller; steals from Adams and Palmer; and all-around team effort in which players supported each other when four of their own faced foul trouble late in the third quarter.
As the Russians continued to heave desperation shots from behind the arc, Seeber and company continued their scoring run to put the game out of reach.
“We were playing a very intense game, and we just found our groove and started trusting each other in the fourth quarter,” Seeber said. “That’s how we were able to become cohesive on offense and defense and win this game.”
In addition to his five 3-pointers, Seeber knocked down two free throws for a total of 17 points, two rebounds, five assists and two steals. Robert Haney had 18 points and six rebounds, and three assists. Palmer had 11 points.
The U.S. is seeded No. 1 in the medal round headed into a rest day and plays No. 8 seed Argentina at noon (5 a.m. ET) Thursday.