LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas —
The United States Armed Forces team won its first International Military Sports Council championship since 1998, defeating Lithuania, 84-74, April 22 at the Chaparral Fitness Center.
"It's very gratifying, particularly because we beat a good team," said Ted Albers, USA head coach. "They didn't give it away; we had to take it from them."
Lithuania played a tough game and held the lead going into the final period.
In the fourth quarter, USA switched to a suffocating full-court, man-to-man defense, tiring the Lithuanian team.
"We can go with all 12 of our players, so we started trying to tire them out," said USA center Bernard James. "They were getting their rest by just bringing the ball up the court. Once we turned it from a half-court game into a full-court game, they got tired and it really broke their confidence."
With 3:47 left in the fourth quarter, James stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for a breakaway dunk that broke the spirits of the Lithuanian team, which never recovered after that play.
Lithuania scored only four points in the fourth quarter.
"They were killing us with the same play all night," James said. "I was looking at the guard's eyes so I knew he was going to pass it. I decided to gamble and thankfully, it paid off."
James, who was also named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, finished the game with 12 points, 18 rebounds and six blocked shots.
USA started the game down 8-2 but had a 12-point lead after the first quarter. Point guard Ron Bartley hit back-to-back 3-pointers from 10 feet behind the arc with two minutes left in the first quarter. Bartley finished with 16 points.
USA took a 49-38 lead into intermission, but the second half proved to be a different story for the American military team.
Lithuania, led by small forward Vaidas Trepocka, surged back with a furious comeback to tie the game 53-53 with five minutes left in the third quarter.
Trepocka scored a team-high 17 points in the game.
Lithuania then took a 62-61 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by shooting guard Simonas Slivka. It was their first lead since early in the first quarter.
"Coach was always positive," James said. "I can't remember the last time he said something negative. He tells us exactly what we need to hear to keep us motivated. That's what makes him a special coach."
After being down by as many as six points, USA tied the game 70-70 with 5:42 left in the fourth quarter.
On the next play, power forward Jammar Major was fouled but still converted the layup for a three-point opportunity, giving USA a two-point lead.
The biggest difference though was USA's ability to continuously get points in the paint.
They finished with 48 points in the paint compared to Lithuania's 26.
Nwaelele, who was named to the All-Tournament Team, had a game-high 25 points.
The United States shot 44.2 percent from the field, while Lithuania shot 38.8 percent.
"It feels really good," James said. "This is my third time coming out to this. For whatever reason, we didn't win it all before, so this has been amazing."