Turkey puts up fight even without Turkoglu

Updated: August 9, 2004, 12:30 AM ET
Associated Press

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- One week before its opener at the Athens Games, the U.S. men's Olympic team took a step backward -- even though the Americans didn't quite see it that way.

Kerem Gonlum and Turkey put up a tougher-than-expected fight against Lamar Odom and Team USA.

The American team blew most of a 14-point fourth-quarter lead against a Turkish team missing Hedo Turkoglu, one of its two NBA players, before coming away with a 79-67 victory Sunday night. It was not an encouraging performance for the Americans, who again struggled against a team that didn't even qualify for the Olympics -- just as happened earlier on their European trip against Germany.

A 19-8 run including several of Turkey's 11 3-pointers narrowed the home team's deficit to 68-65 with 3 minutes left before the U.S. team turned up its defensive pressure to close out the game.

"It was a good experience for us because we're going to have games like this (in Athens) when there is some adversity and they start making shots against us," coach Larry Brown said. "We're just going to have to deal with it."

Tim Duncan led the United States with 16 points and Allen Iverson scored 13, with no one else reaching double figures.

Most alarming for the Americans was the way the team's core of youngsters, including LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, couldn't keep Turkey from making a game of it down the stretch. Though Brown admitted he was tempted to leave his youngsters in, he reinserted the team's elder statesmen, Duncan and Iverson, who steadied the team to help close out the victory.

"I am happy that we're getting better and starting to become a team, but we have a ways to go," Iverson said. "As long as we recognize we have to do more, we'll be all right. If we felt like we were there, it would be something to worry about."

With Turkoglu out because of a broken nose, Ibrahim Kutluay led Turkey with 19 points and Serkan Erdogan added 17. Both players combined for a flurry of 3s that thrilled the a crowd of about 10,000 at the hot, cramped Abdi Ipekci Arena, a low-ceilinged gym that would be considered a bandbox by NBA standards.

And when Turkey made its rally, the noise level was intense.

"I don't know if we'll play in an environment any better than this," Brown said, "and I think the players really enjoyed the experience."

But some of them clearly didn't.

Starting point guard Stephon Marbury struggled again, earning a technical foul for arguing with a referee and going scoreless in 19 minutes. Wade also earned a technical for defiantly rolling the ball away from an official following a call he didn't like, and Duncan shot several angry gazes at the referees when they failed to call fouls when he was being hacked.

But unlike many of the younger players, Duncan never lost his cool and played the role of go-to guy to perfection.

Even with NBA player Mehmet Okur defending him, Duncan was his usual efficient self while shooting 8-for-12, grabbing eight rebounds and blocking two shots in 29 minutes.

The Americans missed all six of their 3-point attempts but still shot 60 percent from the field, while Kutluay and Erdogan made five 3s apiece.

"The big thing was that in the last three minutes I don't know if Turkey scored after we went back to our first unit," Brown said. "The key was we didn't panic, righted ourselves and played with great poise down the stretch."

The teams will play again Tuesday night, and the Americans plan to travel to Athens on Thursday.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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