EUROBASKET: RUSSIA LEAVE IT LATE TO DENY GB

Great Britain depart EuroBasket 2017 winless after an 82-70 defeat to Russia.

With an 0-5 record that leaves them bottom of Group D, there was no victorious farewell for coach Joe Prunty in his 48th and last game at the helm.

The Russians – paced by Alexey Shved, who had 12 of his career-high 30 points in the fourth quarter – were ultimately too potent and their size and outside shooting caused GB more of the problems with which they have become all too familiar during their week in Istanbul.

But, at least, they departed with a performance long on determination and defiance, not content to merely run down the clock on this tournament and forcing their experienced foes to fight for a victory that might see them top the pool standings as the Last 16 beckons this coming weekend.

An upset was possible until the closing minutes with Dan Clark scoring a team-high 21 points and Gabe Olaseni capping a fine competition with 19 points and nine rebounds.

Reflections will be long and hard. Ones that got away. It is ruthless at this level and the margins for error slim.

“That’s the beauty of EuroBasket,” Prunty admitted, sat at a press conference post-game alongside Olaseni, the team’s undoubted primary performer here.

“You’ve got to show up every game. That’s what I love about the guy sitting next to me. He shows up every game. And he’s not here because of just one thing or another. It’s something you build up over time. It’s something you work on, long before he met me. Long before any of these guys met me, they worked on their game and they worked hard.

“Everybody that steps on that court has put their heart and soul, their blood and sweat into it. That’s not just a figure of speech, That’s literally what these guys do. To come and represent their country is amazing… everybody in that locker room deserves credit of building this programme to where it is. It’s in a great spot.

“This game here is not how we wanted to end EuroBasket. We’d love to still be playing next week – but we’re not. And so now, we have to move forward. I think the programme will.”

Two brief early GB leads were speedily erased amid a 15-5 run from the London 2012 bronze medallists that eventually took them as much as 14 clear late in the second quarter.

The ball movement inspired by Shved was disruptive and devastating and there was no real solution for Timofey Mozgov.

With 9/17 shooting from three-point range in a first half that saw Russia surge 43-31 ahead at half-time, there appeared nothing left for Prunty’s men that to achieve other than small personal gains.

However, a pair of threes quick succession from Clark and Gareth Murray brushed aside Britain’s struggles from long-range and brought their side within double figures early in the third.

Hustle eventually brought surprising gains. A Luke Nelson jumper and then a further three from Clark reduced GB deficit to 54-48 with 3:55 left in the period to force Sergey Bazarevich into a time out.

Clark – who had nine points in the third – then found Olaseni on a cut in the latest edition of their inside-outside combo, and the sparks kept flying amid ten straight points that turned into a 13-3 burst.

“Our goal was to keep them under 16 points every quarter,” revealed afterwards. “And we did it except the third quarter. It’s the second game in a row where we lost our concentration in the third quarter.

Just three ahead and under unexpected pressure as their outside shooting faltered, Mozgov stepped up to plug the dyke and move Russia 61-54 in front headed into the fourth.

Ben Mockford, a surprise packet for GB this summer, slashed inside to cut the gap once again but hobbled himself. But another wave came, Olaseni pulling out an exquisitely-timed defensive swat off the rim and then notching four points in a 6-0 run that made it an improbable 64-62 with 4:29 remaining.

The British foul count kept growing but Andrey Vorontsevich, fouling Clark on a drive, drew a technical for throwing the ball away in frustration.

Clark took the fullest advantage, making all three foul shots and then elevating for a tough jumper that took his team to within one.

But Shved, hitting eleven successive Russian points, achieved some separation once more with the Khimki Moscow guard’s contribution vital.

And an 11-1 close killed off Britain’s brave battle to salvage a win at the last. Nearly, but not quite once again.

“We came to EuroBasket to win games and we didn’t win anything,” Clark, who averaged 13.2 points per game, declared. “So we can’t be happy with anything at the moment. We’ve got to get better. It’s as simple as that. In every aspect of the game.

“We weren’t good enough and that shows in the wins and losses column… we’re still not up at the level we need to be at. We’re capable of it. But we’re still not performing.”

It meant Prunty completed his spell at the helm with an 11-37 win-loss record, including 26% in competitive games – much less than the 57% mark recorded by his predecessor Chris Finch.

But the Milwaukee Bucks assistant did so with much less proven talent, a symptom of the harsh loss of UK Sport funding to underpin the national team programme but also of the disappointing dropout from a number of players posted AWOL once they had basked in the glorious spotlight of a home Olympics.

A raw deal but he will still leave with memories to treasure from his four years as an honorary Brit.

“There’s a tonne of them,” Prunty revealed. “A lot of it are the things you don’t see. Look at Gabe as an example. We had a lot of conversations: there are things in your life that happen because they are really special. Because you don’t remember days as much as the moments.

“There are big things like the days your children are born – you know what day that is. You better remember the day you got married but you remember moments from that day. There are moments you remember exactly where you were. Like being in a gym in Las Vegas and having a conversation with Gabe … I can recall vividly what happened.

“There are wins I remember, like last year, a lot of the things we did, like going into a tough environment in Macedonia and how well we played. There are the personal conversations that lead into it, the games you remember, the moments like dinners you shared with the guys.

“There is a tradition we’ve had here – I won’t go into it. We got Gabe into it this year. I could keep going on.

“It’s been an honour to do this. I think the programme is in an unbelievable spot. But the most efficient player (Olaseni) in this tournament is 25. He’s pretty good I’d say the future is bright.”

Gabe Olaseni led GB at EuroBasket in points and rebounds (Mansoor Ahmed)

Afterwards, Olaseni – who ended with averages of 16.2 points and 11.2 rebounds – admitted he owed Prunty a debt for talking him into joining the British team when his instinct was to stay away.

“When I was at Under-18s they cut me,” he revealed.

“For a lot of years, I didn’t want to play for my country. I was angry and upset. I wad confused about why it happened. But then Coach Prunty came along, we developed a really good relationship – but my first two seasons as pro, I was essentially fired from both my teams in Germany and in Italy.

“The time with the GB team is definitely the best of my short career and I give that to coach, Nate (Reinking) and all the other guys in the locker room. I’m going to use this as a confidence builder but this has been one of the best experience of my career.”

The Londoner, who only started playing at the age of 14 and who started just one game in college, will now head to his first campaign in Spain with his stock on a high.

It has been down to keeping it simple, he declared.

“A lot of guys want to do everything. But you have to become a superstar in your role. I shoot the same shots every game. I don’t shoot threes. I don’t try and dribble. I don’t have plays called for me. At the beginning of the game I shot an airball. Just being a star in your role is the main thing.”

UpdatesGame Stats

Notes: GB starters – Okereafor, Johnson, Murray, Clark, Olaseni – Nelson off the bench. Andrew Lawrence was a DNP-illness. Jules Dang and Kofi Josephs did not play in the tournament.

GROUP D

Thursday: EuroBasket, Group D. Great Britain 70 Russia 82, Belgium 54 Serbia 74, Turkey 79 Latvia 89

Final Standings:  1. Serbia (4-1*), 2. Latvia (3-1*),  3. Russia (4-1*), 4. Turkey (2-2*) – 5. Belgium (1-4), 6 Great Britain (0-5) *qualified for Last 16

GROUP C: Gasol makes history

Spain finished a perfect 5-0 to top the group, ahead of Croatia, with an 87-64 rout of Hungary. Pau Gasol scored 20 points to overtake Tony Parker and past record holder Dirk Nowitzki to become the all-time leading scorer in EuroBasket history.

“Tony and Dirk are some of the greatest players to ever play in international basketball,” he said. “Any time that you are in a group with these players, you’re in an elite group, and a very privileged company. Score a few more points or a few less – it doesn’t really make a lot of difference. It’s an honour to be a part of that group.”

Croatia 107 Czech Rep 69, Spain 87 Hungary 64, Romania 69 Montenegro 86

Final Standings: 1. Spain (5-0*), 2. Croatia (4-1*), 3. Montenegro (3-3*), 4. Hungary (2-2*), 5. Czech Republic (1-4), 6. Romania (0-5)

Round of 16 match-ups
Slovenia v Ukraine
Latvia v Montenegro

Germany v France
Spain v Turkey

Lithuania v Greece
Croatia v Russia

Serbia v Hungary
Finland v Italy
Photos: Mansoor Ahmed

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