In the fourth of his blogs from Sofia, Bulgaria, Duco van Oostrum looks at the GB U20s hard-fought victory over Denmark to move to 3-0 in the tournament.
Denmark 60 Great Britain 71
Today’s game was huge. A win v Denmark would secure first position in the group, regardless of the result v Belarus tomorrow, and they’d carry that all important win over to the next stage.
Denmark is also one of the elite U20 teams. Promoted at U16 with this generation (at the expense of England ’93), promoted at U18. Of course they’ve got an important player missing, but who doesn’t.
I’m not sure readers understand the step forward this GB U20 side has taken. The incredibly ugly yeoman-like win today, no matter how it was achieved, led to this group win. All games have been won by double digits and huge fourth quarters. It’s a real team here, with some serious character.
As expected, Denmark follows Croatia’s lead and plays a box-and-one on Devon. They actually did this in the semi-final at the U16 tournament in Portugal. Clearly, GB has prepared for it, and the start is excellent.
Ali Fraser dominates, Joe Hart hits threes, and Louis Sayers is still in the zone. We jump to a 16-7 lead and all looks fine. But here’s the second foul for Ali again, and the rhythm immediately goes.
What’s impressive, and that will be one of the stories of the game, is once again the immense defensive effort. Scoring is such a problem, as Devon misses shots, and GB commit some turnovers, but the defense STANDS.
After Connor and Josh’s free throws, it’s 18-12 GB. In the second quarter, GB battle on with the excellent Louis and John, keeping the lead at 27-22 as both teams struggle to score. Devon is having a nightmare with his shots, but because of the defense, GB just bruises on.
As the Denmark strategy of ‘hack a Devon in full stride’ unfolds, GB gets to put points on the board via the free throw line. Lots of them. Devon and Connor look to put Denmark away on a double digit lead, 34-22 with only 1.35 to go in the half. Do not count out the heart of the Danish.
Devon picks up his second foul, goes to the bench to join Ali, and it’s a nightmare 10-0 Denmark run (2 threes in there) for a 34-32 half time lead. Great fun. Another battle.
What’s clearly evident is the ‘third day blues.’ There are strange games all day. Croatia beat Portugal after leading by 18, Portugal storming back to tie it, and then closing it out only in the final minutes. Bulgaria barely beats Slovakia, who had lost to Austria. Scouting, tiredness, and pressure all come into play now, and this GB v Denmark game fits the pattern.
The second half opens with a Denmark 3 — first deficit. The crowd (six GB this time, but to be fair there were quite a few other teams watching and a remaining crowd from the previous Bulgaria game) got anxious — a bit of an understatement.
Jesse scored to get the lead back, but Denmark had the momentum. And on the Reinholt and-one, Denmark led by 4, 40-36. It seemed that score stayed on the board for a very long time.
For three minutes, both teams could not score. The GB effort was immense; Devon was forced into bad shots, and Denmark went to plus six. Louis countered with 5 points (a perfect 3/3 ft after getting fouled on a three), and Devon added 7 more, including, finally, a clutch three—after such a tough time, the quarter finishes 50-44 and GB up six.
The fourth quarter is GB money time this tournament. Their ability to close-out games is special. Ali is back with nine minutes to play and four fouls, but this time he helps finish the job. Josh hits a three, Ali adds a hook (and of course a GB defensive stand in between) and it’s double digits again, 55-44.
Ali then even lets himself get dunked on to stay out of foul trouble for the GB cause. While Denmark comes back to five, Ali and Devon, find the rhythms of the P&R again getting the lead back up to 9. Jesse then finishes a gorgeous alley-oop at the 3-minute mark.
It’s a professional job from then on and Denmark just cannot make inroads. Final score 71-60 GB.
It hasn’t sunk in yet because it was such an ugly win. Who would expect GB to win when Ali plays only 19min because of foul trouble and Devon shoots 3/17 from the field?
It’s that other stuff that doesn’t really show up in the stats that did the trick. All those rotations, rebounds, box outs, and challenged shots held Denmark to 60 points.
Denmark’s strategy — get Ali in foul trouble, box Devon and when he goes, foul—in the end did not work. GB are too much of a team, Louis, Joe, Josh, Connor, John, Grant, Jesse put in major shifts and did the business.
This was also a major coaching battle. There were adjustments and re-adjustments to the game plan, and coach Smart won it; Jesse, Joe, and Louis all were ready to take advantage of the spaces for them; the players clearly know their roles and are starting to relish in them in the team structure. Denmark almost seemed more focused on stopping Devon than on winning the game; and GB show they know how to win, any which way.
Devon 18p (11/12 ft), 5 reb, 3 assist, 13 (!) fouls drawn. I probably shouldn’t comment on forum remarks, but I’m guessing (daddy speaking, sorry) that hearing the reasons why he was cut for the first time (on Hoopsfix rather than face-to-face) probably didn’t help his concentration for this game. He’s here for U20s. As Finch says, it’s so important for the GB youth programme to do well.
Ali 17p, 7 reb, in 19min. 4 fouls drawn.
Louis, 13p, 9 reb, 4 assists, 2 steals, 4 fouls drawn. What a game again. Way to punish the Danes.
Joe, 6p (2/3 threes)
Jesse, 4p, 9 reb, 2 blocked shots. My man of the match. His shot-blocking ability and the way he controlled the boards was crucial in GB’s defensive excellence.
John, 4p, 9 reb. Again. John just plays. Ali, Jesse, Grant in foul trouble. John has to do the business in 27min and does.
Josh, 4p. Massive dagger 3.
Connor, 3p, 3 assists, 3 steals. Solid and hard-working. I’m a fan.
Grant, 2p, 3reb. Delivered when he had to step in for Ali. A real big around the basket.
Rema, Lee, Zac, DNP
Group winners with one game to go in ‘the group of death.’ Hope the home support appreciates what’s happening here in hot Sofia (40degrees today).
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