Great Britain triumphed with a 96-79 win over Macedonia in London last night, breaking a long losing streak and making their mark in the Eurobasket qualification window.
Ben Gordon the opened scoring with a long range jumper which found nothing but net. A foot on the line meant it counted for only two, but there was more to come. Aleskandar Kostoski fired back for Macedonia; his wildly unorthodox form delivering from outside the arc.
The first quarter continued, and concluded, with unrelenting end-to-end intensity. Gordon was persistently aggressive with the ball; he splashed two threes, and in drawing defensive attention with his hard slashes into the lane, facilitated easy scores for Olaseni around the rim. The visitors, though, refused to give an inch, and closed the quarter with a 30-28 lead.
Andrew Lawrence, whose unwavering offensive consistency has provided some relief during GB’s drought, nailed a three to begin the second quarter and edge the hosts back into the lead. Boateng’s emphatic put back dunk off an Achara miss on the subsequent possession was indicative of things to come; the former played what was surely a career best game in international basketball, finishing with a tally (18 points and 7 rebounds) illustrative of his inside dominance.
Vojdan Stojanovski levelled it up at 33 apiece early in the second with a smooth corner triple, but the remainder of the quarter saw Macedonia’s fluid offense fragment badly. Ball movement stagnated and shot attempts were wayward. GB led 50-43 at the half, with Gordon — dishing out assists with unmatched court vision — the standout player.
The second quarter’s evident competitive disparity gave way to a more intense third. To begin with at least. Macedonia’s visiting fans — coloured with the beaming yellow sun rays and red backdrop of the national flag — congregated in the bleacher immediately behind their team’s basket. Their cheers and boos reverberated, in alteration, interspersed with passionate chants, throughout the game. Such enthusiasm did little to will the Macedonians ahead, or even within striking distance.
Eric Boateng hammered home two dunks with authority; the first rebounding a missed Lawrence layup, the latter off a neat inside shuffle pass from Okereafor. GB’s lead was extended to 9. Gordon and Kostoski traded threes, before Achara buried another. The penultimate quarter closed with the hosts maintaing a 69-60 advantage; one from which they wouldn’t look back.
An utterly dominant display in the fourth consolidated GB’s win; the quarter’s opening minutes saw a comfortable lead become insurmountable. Gordon, showing flickers of the talent that enabled him to compete at basketball’s uppermost echelon, continued his dominance.
Macedonia’s fate had long been sealed, but their spirits weren’t to be dampened. The team fought — Stojanovski, who continued to fire at GB, finished with a game high 28 points — till the end and the fans chanted in unison beyond the buzzer. Romeo Travis (14 points), the visitors’ top forward, remarked after the game on the difficulty of winning when so much is conceded defensively, noting that “79 points is enough to win in Europe”.
Coach Prunty, though keen to express his pleasure at GB’s performance, especially following Wednesday’s opening loss to Hungary — highlighting the balanced nature of the team effort specifically — stressed that further defensive improvements would be necessary in a “very talented and very competitive [qualification] pool”. Eric Boateng, whose electrifying play above the rim was perhaps the game’s most exciting feature, told assorted reporters that “it was reassuring to see our hard work manifest in the game”.
The home fans were few in number and somewhat subdued, the live stream and stats were down; all typifying elements of the British basketball experience. The team, however, was firing at every position and on all cylinders. Such a resounding victory will see GB head into Wednesday’s clash with Luxembourg at the Copper Box with rightful confidence; they remain in firm contention for Eurobasket qualification.
Author: Ed McNally
Image: GB Basketball