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US, China Basketball Game Erupts in Melee

Players from American Georgetown University men's basketball team and China's Bayi men's basketball team fight during a friendly game at the Beijing Olympic Basketball Arena August 18, 2011

A goodwill game between a Chinese basketball club and a U.S. collegiate team turned ugly Thursday in Beijing, when players from both teams exchanged blows and the U.S. team withdrew from the contest to the safety of its locker room.

The U.S. coach, Georgetown University's John Thompson, pulled his players off the court with about 9:30 left in the 4th quarter, with the hotly contested game against the Bayi Rockets tied at 64. The Washington Post, with a reporter present, said the retreat came after players from both teams threw punches and tackled one another. It said spectators threw water bottles at the American players and an unidentified man threw a chair at one of the U.S. athletes.

A photograph from the China Daily showed three uniformed Chinese players and a fourth individual kicking a Georgetown player as the fallen athlete tried to get up off the court.

The game comes as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is visiting China to discuss economic relations between the two countries. Biden did not attend Thursday's game. Biden, however, attended a Georgetown game the day before, watching the U.S. team win against another Chinese club team.

There was no immediate comment from Chinese officials. In Washington, a State Department official called the event "unfortunate." Georgetown's coach Thompson issued a statement calling the game "a contest between two great teams" played at a "very competitive" level. The statement said "we sincerely regret that the situation occurred."

The Washington Post report said the brawl erupted after a Georgetown player took exception to a hard foul from a Rockets player and the two exchanged shoves. Witnesses were also quoted as saying police made no attempts to break up any other skirmishes that preceded the game-ending melee.

Georgetown was scheduled to depart Beijing for a game in Shanghai Friday, but it was not clear whether the team would complete the final five days of its tour.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.