EUROBASKET: GB HEADING FOR EXIT

Serbia proved too strong for Great Britain in a fatal 82-68 defeat on Tuesday.

The result, which left Joe Prunty’s men 0-4, ensured that GB will exit EuroBasket 2017 after the opening round in Istanbul with just Thursday’s closer with Russia to come.

And although the Brits again landed blows against a more experienced opponent, their punches lacked sufficient clout to do any serious damage and incurring a double-digit deficit early in the second period left them in what would always be an uphill battle.

Frustrating, when there were some admirable contributions – especially offensively, led by 17 points from Teddy Okereafor – from this promising youthful group.

Yet the 2014 World Cup finalists have been there and seen it all before and, paced by a game-high 18 points from Bogdan Bogdanovic, they fought through a third quarter rally to comfortably move to the brink of securing their own spot in the Last 16.

“We kept battling but we had to work extra hard just to get close,” Prunty admitted. “Early on, that deficit hurt. But it’s a 40-minute game. We needed to be solid for all 40.”

Serbia started ice cold from the field, going 0/6, but the Rio 2016 silver medallists soon heated up and left a trail of scorched earth,

Six three-pointers in the opening quarter, including three in a 14-5 run that eliminated a brief early British lead, took the Serbs 25-14 ahead as defensive lapses once again left gaps to be exploited.

Okereafor, a much more potent player in this tournament when asserting his own shooting, hit a three that cut the deficit 35-27 with 5:33 left in the second as patient offence brought rewards.

“Teddy scored the ball well. Teddy’s been high in assists as well,” said Prunty. “He’s our point guard – that’s important – getting everyone else involved. But you have to take what’s available to you. He’s had some nice looks. Knocked them down. That’s important throughout the tournament.

“We want him to be confident and play confident. You ask your point guards to do a lot. To take care of the ball. Move the ball full court, run your team. Those are the things we want Teddy doing but obviously when he can make shots as well, that’s big for us.

But elsewhere, small details hurt. GB had zero offensive rebounds in the opening 18 minutes and even though a seven unanswered points brought Prunty’s men within five, their rivals punished turnovers to ease towards a 47-38 half-time cushion.

It wasn’t, in truth, that the Brits were being out-classed by experienced proven foes. Just that there was just enough self-inflicted damage to hobble their cause.

Another quickfire 10-0 run from Serbia extended their advantage to 59-40. Prunty decried his team in a timeout. “Right now we don’t have the energy to win this game,” he said. “I can talk about Xs and Os… “ In other words, it’s on you.

He got a response of sorts. Kyle Johnson had seven of his 13 points in the third, combining effectively with Okereafor to spark a 16-5 run that corralled Serbia’s advantage back to 66-55 with ten minutes left.

But Sasha Djordevic demanded his team respond and so they did. A 6-0 start to the fourth let any momentum from GB evaporate into the air and unlike 24 hours earlier against Latvia, there were no late dramatics, even with Gabe Olaseni collecting 13 rebounds and six assists.

“It was a tough game,” said Gareth Murray. “Serbia’s a pretty good team, one of the top teams out there. We tried to limit our turnovers against them and not let them hit as many three as previous games. I thought we moved the ball well against them. They have some pretty good guys who can score so it was pretty tough. We just tried to play our game, stick to our system, play our best.”

Russia are all that now stands between the Brits and a whitewash in Turkey.

The lessons here have been harsh. In the longer-term, with one eye on the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers, they may hit home. In the present, GB have been found wanting too often, Prunty admitted.

“First quarter, especially down the stretch – one of the thing we’ve struggled with is end of quarters,” the American said. ‘We have the possession, we don’t take care of the ball and, worst-case scenario it turns into giving up points. What we do want, at least, is to get a shot. But too many times, including at the end of the first and second, we gave up an easy basket.

“Those things can be deflating. You try to fight through it. But that early deficit was tough.”

UpdatesGame Stats

Notes: Luke Nelson returned to GB starting line after missing Latvia game due to injury – along side Okereafor, Murray, Clark and Olaseni.

Elsewhere, on Tuesday, Russia lost their unbeaten record at EuroBasket as Latvia inflicted a second-half pasting to win 84-69.

While Belgium were also eliminated from contention after losing 78-65 to Turkey.

Tuesday

Latvia 84 Russia 69, Great Britain 68 Serbia 82, Turkey 78 Belgium 65

Standings: 1. Latvia (3-1), 2. Russia (3-1), 3. Serbia (3-1),  4. Turkey (2-2), 5. Belgium (1-3), 6 Great Britain (0-4)

Pics: Mansoor Ahmed

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