Great Britain’s hopes of a place in the second round of EuroBasket ended on Monday in Ljubljana as they lost 87-68 to Ukraine.
The journey ended here at Tivoli Arena. The Ukraine train rolled on into Round 2, along with France and Belgium, whose safe passage as the third-placed team in Group A was secured when Israel lost 80-76 to Germany.
With two meaningful victories, this is still arguably GB’s best performance at a European Championships. Achieved without their three most prominent players, you wonder what might have been. Certainly, there are pluses from how some of the emerging generation have acquitted themselves.
Ultimately, however, Joe Prunty and his side are going home.
“We just didn’t do enough,” admitted Kieron Achara who matched Devon van Oostrum for a game-best 12 points.
“They played one great game, very solid, a very physical team. They got to the loose balls and they really wanted it. They showed great effort and we didn’t match that intensity unfortunately and came up short.”
There was yet another poor start and this time, there was no miraculous recovery. Pooh Jeter hit a three which saw Ukraine lead 17-10 after barely five minutes. Their size was posing questions. Only two quick threes from Dan Clark provided resistance.
There was an unfamiliar lack of energy. Prunty looked for a sparkplug. Achara threw himself around, hitting a three which cut the gap to 21-18 at the end of the period.
It was as close as Britain would ever come again. Their rivals, storming irresistibly away, were 5/7 from three-point range in the second quarter with Olexandr Mishula dropping the bomb that extended the advantage to 48-31 at half-time following a burst of 12 unanswered points.
There were slippages from GB: offensive rebounds missed, some poor decision-making. Out-scored 20-6 in the paint, an extraordinary revival was needed after the break.
But it never arrived. Mike Fratello’s side retained the momentum, quickly widening the gap to 22. Andrew Lawrence, needing to showcase himself to prospective employers, tried to ignite a response but Ukraine put up a brick wall.
Seemingly every two-pointer would be met with a three. It was coming too easy. Britain were labouring for every gain. Van Oostrum, another to have raised his reputation from this trip, briefly lessened the hole to 61-46. Instant response. Oleksandr Lypovyy buried another three to cap a 7-2 run. Crisis over.
The final period became a parade. Clark sat down with seven minutes left, drenched in sweat. He deserves immense credit for defying his former club Zaragoza and coming to Slovenia instead of putting up his feet. It cannot, surely, be too long until he is rewarded with a contract elsewhere.
But GB did not go without a fight. Achara drained an open three which drew back the chase to 74-60 but there was no sense Ukraine’s mountains would crumble.
“We also wanted to advance, and it was important to our players to advance by winning,” Fratello declared.
And although the lead was reduced to 13 in the closing minutes, it was only lustre.
In the end, Prunty’s men went out with heads held high, with a 2-3 record, with the promise of better but with a yearning for more.
“We battled once the game got going,” the American said. “We needed to get it from the start. We got our rhythm back, cut it to one but in the second quarter it was tough for us. I was proud of the fight we had in the second half. Our guys tried to compete.
“We were trying to pressure, trying to get more possessions in the game. We had a lot of substitutions. But it was a great effort by the Ukraine and congratulations to them.”
Ihor Zaytsev and Kyryl Natyazhko both led a balanced Ukraine scoring attack with 11 points each.
Later, France came from 15 down in the third quarter to beat Belgium 82-65.
GB starters: Lawrence, Johnson, Sullivan, Hesson, Clark. Ali Fraser was a DNP-CD.
EuroBasket, 1st Round, Group A (Ljubljana). Great Britain 68 Ukraine 87, Germany 80 Israel 76, France 82 Belgium 65.
Final Group standings. 1. France (4-1), 2. Ukraine (4-1), 3. Belgium (2-3), 4. Great Britain (2-3), 5. Germany (2-3), 6. Israel (1-4)
Group B. Latvia 76 Macedonia 66, Lithuania 72 Bosnia 78, Serbia 76 Montenegro 83
Group C. Spain 83 Georgia 59, Croatia 70 Czech Rep. 53, Slovenia 61 Poland 72
Group D. Finland 86 Greece 77, Italy 82 Sweden 79, Turkey 89 Russia 77
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