ESTONIA LEAVE GB WINLESS

Great Britain were squeezed out 73-70 by Estonia in their second FIBA World Cup qualifier.

It means Tony Garbelotto’s men end the first international window with a 0-2 record heading into the next series of games in February.

Shooting struggles proved costly, making only 30% from the field, as the hosts dominated inside for long spells, especially during a torrid first half spell in which interior defence was a concept infrequently observed.

Once more, the Brits had to rally from behind and although Dan Clark had an attempt to force overtime in the dying seconds, it would have been unjust on the hosts who battled so well in Tallinn.

Two, in so many ways, that got away for Garbelotto.

“Our basketball performance was poor and we missed a lot of easy shots,” he said.

“I’m sure Estonia’s coach can have his own take on it, but Dan Clark can make 8 of 10 of those last 3-pointers so it was a touch unlucky there as well. It was a good look and credit to my players to get us to that stage.

“It’s extremely disappointing. We’ve just lost two games now that were very winnable. It puts us in a tough position, 0-2. But I know in the next round in February, we’ll come back stronger and we’ll come back better.”

Although Myles Hesson came off the bench to inspire an early 7-0 run which, following a three-pointer from Kieron Achara, pushed GB as much as 21-14 ahead, the second period belonged to the Estonians.

They out-scored their rivals 12-3 during a spell in which little fell for the visitors and after leading 44-36 at half-time, their cushion was swiftly extended to ten early in the third, their energy superior.

Only multiple trips to the line kept the Brits within reach with Andrew Lawrence sidelined due to an injury.

GB were ineffective inside (Mansoor Ahmed)

Luke Nelson picked up a fourth foul but his removal was followed by with a three from his replacement Will Saunders with Garbelotto opting to utilise his full roster.

A 8-2 run cut the home lead to 48-44 with 5:23 left in third, and little by little, it was whittled away with Ovie Soko – who ended with a game-high 17 points –  effective in a late-period burst that had GB a mere 59-57 behind entering the fourth.

But their offense stalled, almost entirely. Bereft of a field goal for over six minutes, GB – who converted 2/17 from three-point range after a promisingly accurate first period – saw their hosts surge clear with a 9-1 run as Janar Talts came alive.

Not done yet though. Eight unanswered points reignited the contest when it seemed done with a precious converted rebound from Hesson, who added 14 points, cutting GB’s deficit to 68-66 with 2:41 remaining.

Unlike against Greece four days earlier, the comeback brought no salvation.

Sten Sokk and Martin Passoja, with a team-best 15 points, let the home crowd breathe once more in an efficient retort with their guests made to pay, as so often, for lapses and second opportunities presented.

Off a Tarik Phillip steal, Soko drove upcourt but could convert only 1/2 when he was fouled en route to the basket, leaving his side 73-70 behind with 14.3 seconds to go.

Needing a steal and a three, a trap off the inbound brought one last offense but Clark’s three was off-target and Teddy Okereafor’s desperate attempt was too late.

“We played with high energy, together as a team, we just couldn’t find a way to get the ball in the basket,” Hesson acknowledged.

“We shot a low percentage in the paint. We got the shots. We just didn’t make them.”

Now the question is whether GB, so underwhelming here in falling to a ninth consecutive defeat, can recover effectively from the worst possible start to this campaign come the spring and summer.

But Garbelotto declared: “I’m looking forward to playing Israel and Greece, then the subsequent third window we’ll be even stronger.”

The other Group H game saw Greece shrug off a poor start to crush Israel 82-61 to remain as the only unbeaten team.

Standings: 1. Greece (2-0), 2. Israel (1-1), 3. Estonia (1-1), 4. Great Britain (0-2)

Updates – Game Stats

Full game

Notes: Kofi Josephs again misses out due to a shoulder injury. GB starters: Okereafor, Nelson, Murray, Clark, Soko. GB’s next qualifier is away in Israel on February 23.

Photos: Mansoor Ahmed

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