Luol Deng hits 28 points as Great Britain go 4-0 in their Eurobasket qualifying campaign with a 90-76 win against Ukraine

Top of their group and with momentum on their side, Chris Finch’s men are now in pole position to reach Lithuania 2011 with a further home contest against Hungary on Tuesday night.

With the weight of expectation from a boisterous crowd on their shoulders, the hosts sagged badly for extended spells in a game they were expected to win.

Caught cold at the outset, GB trailed for most of the first period until Flinder Boyd converted two free throws in a style as nifty as his new moustache to put side 19-17 ahead.

But Maksym Pustozvonov converted 5 of his team-best 18 points in quick succession to push the Ukrainians 27-24 in front entering the second period. And worse was to come for the hosts as they let down the guard and were punished.

An 11-2 run opened up a 36-26 lead that had Finch fuming on the sidelines with the guests starting 5 for 5 from three-point range. Dan Clark, however, is a man possessed this summer. The Estudiantes centre is a changed man from 12 months ago, basking in the confidence of his new starting role and the trust from his coach. He hit four foul shots as GB reeled off ten without reply, shutting shop at the other end with Kieron Achara producing a ferocious block.

Up 41-40, the energy was back. Ukraine stole ahead once more but Deng and Clark combined to put their side up 47-46 at half-time, with Achara’s desperate attempt on the buzzer falling just short.

The home side were still unconvincing. Just as against Bosnia three days earlier, there were too many poor shots. 7 for 20 field goals was a sub-par return. Pops Mensah Bonsu, Finch admitted, took too long to show his quality.

“We just tried to get him going by giving him the ball early because we needed his energy,” he said. “Sometimes guy don’t have it in the first half. You could tell Pops was pretty focused in the locker room at half-time. We told him to come out with a lot of energy.”

He stepped up but the guests efficiently eased ahead again, grabbing a 55-50 advantage mid-way through the third quarter. Yet for the second game in a row, Finch found his side level entering the fourth, the rivals deadlocked at 64-64.

Drew Sullivan set the tone by taking a charge from Serhiy Lischuk that brought the forward’s fifth foul and sent him to the sidelines with 13 points. His colleagues followed suit, Nate Reinking putting GB ahead again before Boyd and Deng gave the hosts their biggest lead at 71-66.

With Mensah Bonsu already benched with four fouls, Clark matched his tally with 5.51 left. Then Dmytro Gliebov left the visitors two down with his fifth.

Finch rolled the dice with his two bigs in an attempt to seal victory but saw Agafonov pulled Ukraine back to 74-72.  Free throw attempted were being wasted, Deng missing yet another as the tie remained tightly poised.

It was – to quote the marketing people – Game On. Yet there is always Reinking, the reliable old warrior who was joining Sullivan in a record-extending 51st appearance.

He hit a three with 2.50 remaining that forced the Ukrainians into a time-out to re-group, trailing 77-72. And then he drained two floating jumpers that, for the first time, gave GB some breathing space.

Deng went in for the kill with a trey and then a dunk. With 1.16 left, it was 84-72 and there looked no way back. The NBA forward added another score for good measure and it was game over with Mensah-Bonsu taking his tally to 15 in the dying seconds as the celebrations began.

“It was similar to all our performances,” said Finch. “We’re in an excellent position now but it’s important to keep it in context that every one of our games was won in the last four or five minutes. There is not a big margin for error. But guys are playing heavy minutes and they’re giving it extra effort down the stretch. We’re asking them to dig deep at big times and they’re stepping up.”

It means GB top their group ahead of Macedonia, who defeated Bosnia 72-56. But Finch is guarding against complacency and insisted that a 6-2 record might be enough.

“We told our guys before the campaign started that you can’t predict these groups. There are lots of twists and turns and as you get towards the end, it gets harder and harder and the games become more meaningful.”

Notes: GB’s Under-20 women were presented to the crowd at half-time, sporting their medals from winning the European B Division this summer. Devon Bailey had his fourth DNP-CD of the campaign … Sullivan and Reinking received silver plates for becoming GB’s new highest capped players from the former holder Bill McInnes. The official attendance was 2,416.

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