ATHENS - The U.S. men's basketball team must have visited the Olympic lost-and-found on its day off.
After being nearly a scoring no-show for five games, Stephon Marbury found his touch yesterday and atoned with 31 points - a U.S. men's Olympic record - to lead the Americans to a 102-94 victory over previously unbeaten Spain in a quarterfinal matchup.
The Americans play Argentina tonight in the semifinals.
On a day when rebounding was a struggle and four players were in foul trouble, Marbury's sudden arrival after scoring just 21 points in the tournament made the difference.
"I knew I wasn't shooting the ball well. ... I hadn't been playing basketball all summer and I came into the Olympics and I wasn't even thinking about scoring," said Marbury, who also made six of nine three-point shots. "We had an off day [Tuesday], and I went to our practice facility. ... I got there early and shot for about an hour and a half. I know I can shoot better than I've been showing."
Even Carmelo Anthony (Towson Catholic) emerged briefly from coach Larry Brown's doghouse to end the third quarter with a three-pointer. He has played just 10 minutes in six games.
But the crowd of 19,250 at the Olympic Indoor Hall did not enjoy the show, whistling and booing the U.S. team with gusto. It grew in volume at the end of the game, when Brown and Mario Pesquera, Spain's coach, tangled and had to be separated.
Brown said he called timeout while Spain had the ball after his team had turned the ball over twice. When he realized the game clock had wound down to only 23 seconds and the Americans had an 11-point lead, Brown said he tried unsuccessfully to rescind the timeout.
"I would never try to embarrass another coach," Brown said. "All you can do is apologize and move on."
Pesquera was having none of it.
"I had, and I stress had, a lot of respect for Larry Brown," he said. "If he really wanted to annul the timeout, he could have simply sent his players back out onto the court. ... I would like to say I still respect Larry Brown as a coach, but [former North Carolina coach and Brown's mentor] Dean Smith would never have done that."
Pesquera did not limit his criticism to Brown. He also complained the game was called "by NBA rules, not FIBA rules," the international basketball federation.
"If they are going to let people commit traveling and fouls, I wish they would tell us so everybody could do it," he said.
In the first half, Spain's Pau Gasol was an offensive force, scoring at will against an American front line that was in foul trouble early. Gasol, of the Memphis Grizzlies, had 25 points in the first three quarters and was perfect from the free-throw line.
His teammates, however, shot 25-for-57 and hit just seven of 23 three-point attempts.
By contrast, the Americans limited their turnovers to eight and scored 13 points off turnovers. The lead changed hands eight times.
"If they're going to shoot like that, it's going to be difficult to beat them," said Gasol, who finished with 29 points. "They were sharp today."
Marbury broke the U.S. record of 30 points shared by Adrian Dantley in 1976 against Yugoslavia and Charles Barkley in 1992 against Brazil.
Marbury said in the early games he concentrated on running the team and getting all his teammates involved.
"When I came here, Larry Brown said I was going to score by accident," Marbury said. "He said, 'Don't think about scoring. Just go out and play.' "