July 22, 2009
NETANYA, Israel -- Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl fulfilled one of his professional dreams Wednesday, as he led Maccabi USA's Open Men's Basketball Team to a gold medal with a 95-86 overtime triumph over Israel at the 18th World Maccabiah Games.
Fittingly, it was the son of a legendary former Vol who led the way for the red, white and blue. Dan Grunfeld, son of two-time Tennessee All-America Ernie Grunfeld (1973-77), scored a game-high 25 points Wednesday.
Grunfeld converted a three-point play with 20.7 seconds left in regulation to tie the game. He then paced the Americans with six points in overtime en route to earning MVP?honors.
The win gave the U.S. Maccabi Team just its third gold medal at the quadrennial Games in the last 24 years, as teams from nations such as France, Israel and Russia have risen to prominence in recent years. From 1950-81, USA?won gold seven times. Israel was the gold-medal-winner at the 17th Games in 2005 but was forced to settle for silver this year. Canada won the bronze.
"It was a very, very good basketball game," Pearl said of the final. "(Israel is) a big team. They really hurt us on the offensive boards. But there's something special about these (American) kids--great chemistry.
"For the rest of their lives, they can say they're gold-medal winners."
The Americans led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, but Israel rallied to tie the game at 65 with under seven minutes to play in the fourth. The defending gold medalists used another late spurt to build a 73-67 lead with 4:46 to play.
Back-to-back baskets by Grunfeld and Seth Hauben later cut Israel's lead to one point, 77-76, with 48.8 seconds left in regulation. Then after an Israeli basket with less than a minute remaining, Grunfeld was fouled while making a runner down the lane; he converted the three-point play to tie the score at 79.
Team USA denied Israel on a pair of shot attempts with less than 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter, forcing overtime.
In its six contests at the Maccabiah Games, the U.S. Maccabi Team outscored its opponents by an average of 35.8 points per game (104.8 to 69.0) en route to a 5-1 record. Pearl had Team USA playing an up-tempo style of basketball.
"This is one of the highlights of my career,"Pearl said. "I'm proud to be an American, and I want to say thanks to the Tennessee fans for understanding what these Games mean to me and for encouraging me to coach this team.
"I'm leaving Israel shortly and will be on the road in the USA recruiting for UT in the morning. Go USA, and go Vols!"