Today was supposed to be the day where the U20s could write GB basketball history. It didn’t happen. Once again Finland proved to be Great Britain’s Angstgegner (great German word — Finland did it to GB last year as well) and obstructed the path to the final four and promotion. How did it happen?
For the first time, the entire team suited up and no reported injuries. Right from the start, Finland looked like a different team from the one that lost its last game to Hungary.
Alex Murphy, a Finn with dual citizenship going to Duke University, scored easily as he would have his best game of this tournament yet. Even though Ali and Devon put plenty of baskets in, the Finns hit some threes and took a significant lead at 18-13. Louis, John and Ali kept GB close and after one it was 20-18 Finland.
After some Finnish buckets, the first run for GB. Connor hit a 3, Louis a long 2, and then Jesse picked up a steal, raced down the court and threw down an awesome jam in traffic; and when Louis hits a 3 from another assist by Devon, the lead grows to 33-24 with 4 min left.
And then the story of the day. Missed lay-ups when GB could put the game away; Murphy hits a buzzer and it’s only a 4-point lead at the half, 37-33.
The defense is just fine, but GB is struggling to put points on the board. Ali and Devon come out flying in the second half and it’s 45-36 GB. Another hook shot by Ali gives GB its first double digit lead, 51-41, with 3 minutes left in the quarter.
But here’s a 12-2 run by Finland to close the quarter and the fourth quarter starts with only a 2-point lead, 55-53. The first four minutes, no score. 3 lay ups, 2 free throws and a couple of shots missed. Murphy puts Finland up and Caven hits a three and suddenly GB is facing a 5-point deficit. And Finland score yet again from a broken play and pretty good GB defense.
On the offensive end, it’s such hard work, though. Connor plays as point guard, and Devon is hounded all over court; and then if he receives the ball and looks to go, hack. He was fouled again 12 times today, and that’s conservative. The worrying thing was that they were not touch fouls, but fouls at the eyes and face. One intentional that could have been a disqualifying was called, but Finland’s strategy kept being rewarded.
In the final minute, GB made one final push. Connor hits the three to make it a three-point game, Jesse forces a turnover, and Joe is set up for an open three—in and out. A quick foul, Finland hits one free throw, and Joe hits a jumper with 8 seconds left, 64-66. Finland again hit one free throw, and from the rebound, Devon throws the ball to Ali who turns around, ball taken away, and time expires, 67-64 Finland.
The disappointment was certainly heart-felt. Rather than the fourth quarter being the time of strength for Great Britain, it was now the quarter of fear. Players consistently suffered from a lack of confidence and seemed to be afraid to make errors, in turn producing them.
The GB crowd certainly wills the players on and we all hope they can step up tomorrow versus the impressive Czechs. The second phase games certainly did not go according to the bookies.
The Czechs blew away Croatia, and that’s an understatement. The first half was a basketball clinic. After today, there’s only one undefeated team left, the Czechs. And guess who GB is playing tomorrow?
The Bulgarians lost by 20 to Belgium (a team GB beat in warm ups) on national television. Israel then upset favourites Poland in the best game of the tournament so far.
The bizarre thing is that Great Britain can go through tomorrow even if they lose to the Czechs but then Croatia needs to win, but not by too many. It’s that wonderful FIBA competition system again that GB know so well after the U20s championship in Austria 2 years ago, when Poland and Austria played it so that GB went out, in spite of being the only team winning all matches in the second round.
Ali, 21p, 9 reb, 3 assists, 38min (no foul trouble!)
Devon, 20p, 9 reb, 5 assists, 12 times fouled against, 38min.
But they are the only scorers in double figures:
Louis, 7p, 4 reb, 29min
Connor, 6p, 21min
John, 4p, 14min
Joe, 4p, 5 reb, no steals on the stat sheet? Certainly a number of hustle plays. 28min.
Jesse, 2p (a massive thunderdunk), 6 rebounds, 4 blocks, 26min.
Lee, Zac, Rema, DNP
So tomorrow we have to suffer through another absolutely do-or-die day. Two shots at it. First the game v the Czechs and then we get to watch the other game if GB didn’t make it.
We know the USA has descended on Manchester and that’s rather big. However, if everyone could throw some support East to Bulgaria and cheer GB on, it might just put them over the hump. The players are suffering a bit at the moment and could certainly use some encouragement.
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