Great Britain secured a precious 75-61 victory over Cyprus in Nicosia.

It kept the visitors’ hopes alive of earning a place in the main qualifying round for EuroBasket 2021 although they will still need to win the return tie with the now-ousted Cypriots on February 21 – and then, three days later, triumph in Austria by at least 15 points.

A tough ask. Yet even against one of the minnows of Europe, this still counted as a priceless minor renaissance though after the pummelling in Manchester last Thursday.

“I’m very happy for the win,” said GB head coach Alberto Lorenzo. “This team needs wins like this. Our first step was working on defence. We performed well in defence, especially in the second half. I’m happy for the work the players put on the court.”

Shuffling his line-up, perhaps with defence in mind, Lorenzo gambled on replacing his captain Dan Clark amid his starters with Ovie Soko.

And with Justin Robinson slotting in for the injured Andrew Lawrence, there was initially a more physical threat than was shown in Thursday’s meek display against Austria.

It took a while for a new-look rotation to bed in.

GB trailed 20-12 late in the first quarter but seven unanswered points slashed the deficit. And although the hosts pulled ahead again, Clark, Soko, Teddy Okereafor and the influential Myles Hesson all hit threes in a 16-2 run for GB which propelled them 37-28 ahead late in the second.

The guests shot 6/11 from long range in the first half but gave up a corner three on the half-time buzzer to George Theocharides which cut their advantage to 37-34.

However threes from Gareth Murray and Okereafor bookended an 8-0 burst in the third and Josh Steel provided a fine cameo off the bench in his second international appearance.

Valuably, Hesson was omnipresent, defending diligently and adding eight of his game-high 21 points in a quarter that ended with GB 56-44 in front.

Given that Austria’s 81-71 win over Cyprus on Sunday meant GB had to beat the Cypriots or be assured of dropping into a last-chance qualifying series next August with Europe’s lowest-placed teams, the stakes were ultra-high. Lorenzo’s side collectively held its nerve.

And ultimately, they were able to coast towards victory, with Soko adding 14 points and Okereafor’s mature performance delivering eight points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals.

“We did a good job in following the game plan the coach set for us,” Soko said.

“We couldn’t change many things in a few days, but we could work on rebounds and turnovers, which we can control and focus on. We did a good job in rebounding and played solid defence. We made another step forward.”

New York-born forward Tyrell Biggs had a game-high 16 points for Cyprus who will definitely now be forced to take their long shot at EuroBasket 2021 through the additional qualifying round.

Game Stats

Notes: GB starters – Okereafor, Robinson, Murray, Soko, Olaseni. Will Saunders replaced Andrew Lawrence, who missed the game after picking up a back injury in practice on Sunday. Ryan Richards and Carl Wheatle were DNP-CDs.

Group standings
1. Austria            3-0   6
2. Great Britain 1-1  3
3. Cyprus             0-3  3

Photos: Mansoor Ahmed

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