The U.S. men's national team survived a letdown and held on to beat Tunisia, 25-14, 25-19, 29-27, in an FIVB World Cup match on Friday at the Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium in Japan.
The Americans (8-0) head to Tokyo on Saturday, where they will battle undefeated Poland (8-0), the defending world champion, on Monday, defending Olympic champion Russia (7-1) on Tuesday and Argentina (5-2), which has only lost to Poland and Russia, on Wednesday.
Teams at the World Cup play 11 matches in 16 days in a round-robin format. The top two teams qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The U.S. Men had to fight off five Tunisia set points in the third set before finally winning thanks to a successful challenge of a Tunisia kill by U.S. coach John Speraw. Tunisia was called for touching the net and a block by middle blocker Max Holt, who finished with a match-high four.
"I've been concerned about emotional letdowns throughout the entire tournament," Speraw said. "I think up until today we've handled it real well. Today was not good. There's no doubt that it's a challenge to play a team like Iran and come back and play the next day. This tournament is very unique in our sport. I understand it. I just hope we can continue to grow from that experience."
Although Tunisia entered the match at 0-8 and at 3-24 in sets, the only change Speraw made to his starting lineup was using middle blocker David Smith in place of David Lee.
Smith won the Most Impressive Player award after finishing with seven points on three kills, two blocks and two aces.
Smith had a key play in the third set when his block held off a Tunisia set point and tied the score at 24-24.
"Tunisia was playing great and we had difficulty making those connections that we usually do," Smith said. "They were squeaking balls through the block, around the block, off the tape…"
In the second set, Paul Lotman took over for Aaron Russell at outside hitter and Dustin Watten played for Erik Shoji at libero.
U.S. opposite Matt Anderson led all scorers with 22 points on a match-high 18 kills, two blocks and two aces. Outside hitter Taylor Sander added 12 points and Holt had 10.
The victory in three sets could be important down the road for the U.S. Teams will finish the World Cup based on wins and losses, but the first tie-breaker will be set differential.
"We know it's very tight at the top," Speraw said. "There could be a one-loss team that doesn't get one of the Olympic bids. It probably will come down to sets, so we're grateful we were able to win (today) in three."