US shocked by France in World Cup

France's Evan Fournier going up against Donovan Mitchell in the World Cup quarter-finals yesterday in Dongguan. The American's 29 points were not enough for the holders to stave off elimination. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
France's Evan Fournier going up against Donovan Mitchell in the World Cup quarter-finals yesterday in Dongguan. The American's 29 points were not enough for the holders to stave off elimination. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

DONGGUAN (China) • Defending champions the United States have been ousted from medal contention by France at the Basketball World Cup, failing to capture gold at a major international tournament for the first time since the 2006 World Championships.

Evan Fournier scored 22 points, while Rudy Gobert added 21 points and 16 rebounds as France beat the US 89-79 in the quarter-finals in Dongguan yesterday, rallying from a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit to pull off the upset.

The US had won 58 consecutive games in Fiba and Olympic competition, starting with the third-place play-off at the 2006 tournament and continuing through every Americas, World Cup and Olympics event since. They were bidding to become the first nation to win three consecutive World Cups, after clinching three straight Olympic golds in that span.

But the best the severely weakened Americans can do now in China is finish fifth. They are going home with a berth in the 2020 Olympics secured, but no medal.

Team USA are left with little but pride to play for against Serbia today.

France will face Argentina while Spain take on Australia in the semi-finals in Beijing tomorrow.

"We came here to win gold," France centre Gobert said. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy. A lot of people counted us out, but we got the win."

He added that beating the Americans was not the goal - winning the title is. "It doesn't mean anything if you don't win in the end," said Gobert, who plays for the Utah Jazz in the National Basketball Association.

Donovan Mitchell scored 29 points for the US, all of them coming in the first three quarters. The Americans came up scoreless on six consecutive possessions down the stretch, a drought that allowed the French to take control of a back-and-forth game for the final time.

Marcus Smart scored 11 points and Kemba Walker had 10 for the US. Frenchman Nando de Colo scored 18. France were up 10 early in the second half, but the US went on a 31-14 run over the next 10 minutes to be up by seven. The French responded with a 15-2 run over the next five minutes, leading 82-76 after a long jumper by Frank Ntilikina with 2:05 on the clock.

Mitchell had a chance to get the US within two with about a minute left, driving against Gobert - but the centre read what his Jazz teammate and guard was going to do perfectly, swatting his shot away.

France had been 0-9 against the US in major international play, most of those outcomes one-sided affairs. But the last meeting between the nations was a 100-97 US win at the Rio Olympics three years ago, and France had three survivors - Gobert, de Colo and Nicolas Batum - from that game.

None of the US players who featured that afternoon in Brazil are on this year's World Cup team, as a host of NBA stars had pulled out. They were also without the Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum, missing his fourth consecutive game at the Cup with a sprained left ankle.

Orlando Magic guard Fournier's lay-up with 7:33 left in the third gave France a 53-43 lead, and that was when Mitchell got going. He had 14 points in the third quarter alone, and his dunk with 2:40 left pulled the US into a 60-60 tie.

Before Mitchell's offensive burst yesterday, the previous single-game scoring high for any US player at this World Cup was Jaylen Brown's 20-point game against Japan in the opening group round.

Smart made three free throws after getting fouled by Gobert to put the US back on top, and the Americans took a 66-63 lead into the fourth.

But they could not finish it off.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2019, with the headline 'US shocked by France in World Cup'. Print Edition | Subscribe