There are few things more heartbreaking than watching a team play well for an entire game, and then completely melt down in the last couple of minutes. That’s exactly what happened today as the U.S. men’s team blew a close one against Lithuania, 94-90.

Through the first three-and-a-half quarters, the U.S. looked good. On defense, they pressured the ballhandler, forcing 10 turnovers in the first period. On offense, they played an inside-out game, either pounding it in to the post players or slashing in to draw fouls. Richard Jefferson, who had been one of the squad’s goats through the first three games, started down the road to redemption with aggressive drives, good perimeter D, and even three 3-point baskets in the 4th quarter. Dwayne Wade continued to impress with hyperactive defense, including a weakside block on a player 7″ taller than him. Even Carmelo Anthony, who’s been in coach Larry Brown’s doghouse lately, seemed to buy into the team plan, playing most of the 2nd quarter and picking up 5 points on much improved (almost too tentative) shot selection. Actually, the shot selection was better all around, with the U.S. shooting 45% overall and 38% from 3-point range.

Those improved numbers, though, were nothing compared to the way Lithuania shot. They made up for their high turnover rate with wicked shooting: 52% overall and 48% from 3-point range. Through the first three quarters, that high scoring rate is all that kept them in the game, as they were outplayed at both ends by an energetic U.S. squad. The fourth quarter is when they made their move: guard Sarunas Jasikevicius made a 4-point play to give Lithuania the lead. He then made two more in a row, both on screen-rolls that the U.S. failed to properly defend. Then, trailing by four, Lamar Odom and Stephon Marbury put big pressure on Ramunas Siskauskas, knocking the ball out of bounds. On the inbounds, Marbury proceeded to commit a stupid foul on Jasikevicius that gave Lithuania two free throws. Down by three now, Jefferson took a 3-point shot instead of driving for a basket and foul — exactly what the entire world had been telling him for the past week not to do. Then, instead of immediately fouling the rebounder afterwards, the U.S. just chased the dribbler around like a bunch of grade schoolers, finally committing a foul with 5.1 seconds left. Siskauskas made 1 of 2, and there wasn’t enough time afterwards for the U.S. to do anything to make up the final four-point deficit.

And I’m sitting here, fuming at the way the U.S. let this one slip away. While it was nice to see the men play a good game for 36 minutes, those last four are what we’re going to hear about for the next few days (or years). The most galling thing is that unlike the Puerto Rico game, this one was not an upset. The way the U.S. has played, people had picked Lithuania to win this one (a lot of analysts have them picked to win gold). Taking this game would have upset the undefeated Lithuanians, and quieted a lot of the snark surrounding the team. Now the Americans are only 2-2 in qualifying, and must beat Angola (this year’s official “we’re just happy to be here” team) to advance to the elimination rounds.

At least the women’s team is rolling, although I haven’t been able to watch them since their games are all on cable. The only possible silver lining to a men’s loss for me is the chance that NBC would switch around the schedule in case of a U.S.-less men’s medal round, and allow me to watch the women and remember what a dominant American basketball team looks like.