U.S. Men's Wheelchair Basketball To Return to Paralympic Gold-Medal Game for First Time Since 1988

By National Wheelchair Basketball Association | Sept. 15, 2016, 10:41 p.m. (ET)
Steve Serio helped lead the men's wheelchair basketball team to the gold-medal game at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

RIO DE JANEIRO – The U.S. Men’s Wheelchair Basketball Team is returning to the gold-medal final at the Rio Paralympic Games for the first time in 28 years, after knocking over a strong Turkish team, 74-54. Team USA was challenge to start the game, and then went on a roll outscoring Turkey 52-35 over the last three quarters.

The first was a nail biter for the U.S. fans as Team USA saw the game tied twice and Turkey hold an advantage, as large as five points, until the remaining 28 seconds remained. The duo of three-time U.S. Paralympians Steve Serio of Westbury, New York, and Mike Paye of Warren, Michigan, connected with Paye driving down the paint for a 20-19 lead. Serio and Paye each scored six points, with first-time U.S. Paralympians Aaron Gouge of Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Brian Bell of Birmingham, Alabama, each scoring four points. Once again, Serio is the floor general adding five assists.

"We knew that Turkey is a really talented team. They were ready to play us tough, and I'm just happy to get the win today,” said Serio. “I feel very confident going into the gold-medal game against Spain. We're going to go back and watch the game tape from tonight and watch Spain's game against Great Britain in the other semifinal game. Hopefully, there are some things we can take away and improve on, and just get ready for the gold-medal game."

Team USA opened the second quarter with a 12-0 run that was energized by four-time U.S. Paralympian Matt Scott of Detroit, Michigan, who scored seven points in five minutes. Scott only played five minutes of the quarter as he picked up two questionable calls. Team USA maintained the rest of the half, only allowing Turkey to score eight points in the second for a 37-27 lead.

The third was almost identical to the second as Team USA outscored Turkey 34-15 in the last 20 minutes. Serio is having another stellar game with 15 points, five rebounds, and nine assists after three quarters. Gouge scored a Games personal best with 10 points after three.

"Defense helped solidify our 34-15 run. We pride ourselves on that. Our goal is to be the top defensive team in the tournament, and I feel we are,” said U.S. Men’s Head Coach Ron Lykins of Columbia, Missouri. “Turkey started out well in the first quarter, and then we just mixed it up and went with a different lineup, which really gave them trouble. It's been our MO the whole tournament."

The U.S. defense started the fourth quarter as the prior two by shutting down Turkey with an 8-second back court violation. Team USA maintained its advantage and ran back and forth with Turkey, who outscored the United States for the first time, 20-18. Serio closed out the night with 17 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. Joining Serio in scoring was Gouge, who scored six more in the fourth, for 16 points total, his best of the 2016 Paralympics. Jake Williams of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, came through in the fourth and finished with 10 points on the night.

"The shot clock violations were definitely part of the game plan. Turkey is so big and they shoot well. If they get anywhere near the basket, then we're in trouble,” said Lykins. “If we let them near the basket, then they are going to score. If we keep them away, then that helps us. Our whole plan was trying to keep their bigs away, and then we'd jump Oscar anywhere he went.

"We were not expecting a 20-point win. They are a good team, they're well-coached, they play well together, and they are talented. We knew it was going to be a struggle. Even though it said 20 on the scoreboard, it wasn't easy. It was a hard-fought win."

Team USA was 32 of 56 from the floor for 57 percent, while Turkey finished 24 for 54 and 44 percent on the night. Team USA forced 18 turnovers in the semifinals.

Turkey defeated the United States in 2012, and that was the only time these two countries have played prior. The United States is now 1-1 against Turkey at the Paralympics. The United States Men’s team finished pool play competition undefeated, 5-0. Overall, Team USA is 77-15 in the Paralympic Games.

Also joining Lykins on the sidelines will be assistant coaches Robb Taylor of Auburn, Alabama, and John Sikora of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Scott Meyer of Columbia, Missouri, will serve as the Team Leader, with Mary Vacala of Savannah, Georgia, filling the athletic trainer position. Also assisting in preparations are strength coach Michael Cohen of Savannah, Georgia, and team psychologist Dr. Roberta Kraus of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The U.S. men’s team finished with a bronze medal at the London 2012 Paralympics and look to improve in Rio de Janeiro. The men’s team finished seventh in 2004 and fourth in 2008, following bronze-medal performances in 2000 and 1996.