With the second stage confirmed as group winners, this game was always going to be a bit of an anti-climax. The coaching staff decided to give Devon an extra day of rest and with Lee and Zac still unavailable, it left a short bench to tackle this game.
The game also provided an opportunity to try out different rotations and sets. The final result was disappointing, but at the same time the game also provided moments for evaluation and practice to get ready for the all-important final phase.
As is usual in the group, Belarus is another quality team — this is not ‘the group of death’ for nothing. With perennial topscorer Liutych as the mean threat, this team throughout the age groups has managed to 8 finishes. They battled Croatia all the way and lost to Denmark on a buzzer-beater.
The GB team started well. Ali and Louis scored from beautiful sets and it looked a comfortable 10-2 lead, with GB absolutely dominating. But from the 6th minute, scoring become more and more of a struggle.
Connor and John managed to get on the board, as Belarus kept coming closer, down only 2 after the first. And after 1 minute in the second, Ali picked up his second foul and had to go to the bench. Belarus took their first lead at 20-19, only for Jesse to get his first dunk (he had multiple) on a Connor assist to get it back.
Grant and Louis kept the momentum going and it started looking comfortable again at 27-22 GB. Belarus started looking better and better, though, even though Josh and John scored again. At the half, GB faced a 1-point deficit, 34-33.
As an experienced GB crowd now, we knew this happens, and we felt OK because Ali would be back in the second half. However, some of the fire and energy seemed to be missing, and Belarus kept edging further ahead. From 37 all, GB struggled scoring, 46-39, and Belarus took a 9-point advantage after 3, 52-43—a dismal 10-point quarter by the GB men.
But hey, you will say, 4th quarter is GB time this tournament. The answer was no. The energy just wasn’t there, and it probably was a combination of the 4th game in 4 days in 40 degree weather, playing in a gym without air conditioning, and knowing that this game means nothing for overall standings, after the incredible pressure games the previous days.
The game petered out and Ali could finish this game strong. Jesse and Ali got some good dunks, but on the other side, Liutych finished high flying dunks off turnovers. Connor’s 3 made it a 10-point game with about 3 min to go, but it just didn’t happen. Jesse dunked a couple more for good measure but the final score was 69-61 Belarus. GB’s first loss of the tournament.
It’s hard to analyse the performance. The urgency just simply wasn’t there. The coaching staff will no doubt discuss the consequences of lapses in defensive focus and not executing the offense. The fact is that the team better regroup for the next phase, probably against Finland and the Czech Republic.
What happens next in this group is interesting. Portugal beat Denmark by 1 in the later game; tomorrow, Denmark play Croatia and Belarus play Portugal. If Croatia wins, they join GB in the next phase. If Denmark wins, the mathematicians can go to work; three teams could then finish with a 2-2 record, with only 1 going through. We don’t care. We win the group of death.
Ali 16p, 8 rebounds, 4 fouls drawn. 31min
Jesse, 13p, 13 reb, 4 fouls drawn. 32 min. Jesse is starting to assert himself much more on the glass and he’s stepping up big.
Conner 12p, 8 reb, 5 assists. 4 fouls drawn. 36 min. There’s more to come from Connor. His rebounding was sometimes spectacular in flight. Busy night for Connor as he had to control the tempo.
Louis, 6p.5 reb.
Grant, 4p. 3 reb.
Joe, 2p. 3 reb, 5 assists, 3 steals
Like the players, it seems, the crowd also went into early rest mode. One of those special surprising moments happened that are unique to these tournaments in very foreign settings. At the back of the sports hall, it looked as if there was a nice beer garden, and we decided to go there to shelter against the heat (obviously the only reason).
We left 5 hours later. It turned out that they served superb Bulgarian dishes and entire families came for their Sunday evening meal. In one corner, an artist had set up a paint area for children, in another there was a small play ground—all within the restaurant grounds. Our waiter basically decided what we were going to eat—even the dessert (some kind of cream cake) was spot on.
The four of us talked about life as basketball fathers and coaches and all the choices, struggles, and special moments that brings — including nights such as these, sitting in a Bulgarian garden restaurant, discovering new foods, and new friends. It puts the meaningless loss against Belarus in a much better perspective.
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