LOSSES LEAVE GB IN NUMBERS GAME

GB need to break the habit in today’s EuroBasket qualifier against Cyprus (5pm, watch live here).

There are, they say, statistics. And damn lies.

Here is a fact, however. Great Britain have won only one of their last 12 internationals, against Estonia last June.

Since a meaningless pair of friendlies with Puerto Rico in the summer of 2013, there have been 63 games but only nine victories.

“It’s easy to look at the stats and the numbers,” counters Myles Hesson, one of the few players to emerge with credit in last Thursday’s home humbling to Austria.

Added his veteran colleague Gareth Murray, “in most games, we’ve been in close contests.”

How one defines an approximation to a triumph can vary but if the (admittedly, generous) metric of eight points or less is used, then 31% of those reverses – 17 games – might have been determined by a rogue bounce here and there.

Yet look across any major league in the world and a .142 win percentage is likely to place a team dangling near the foot of the standings.

Advocates and apologists might continue to make a case about unfulfilled potential, about tantalising possibilities.

The numbers do not lie.

And now GB’s route into the main qualifying round of EuroBasket 2021 must factor in figures.

Not only do Alberto Lorenzo’s men need to beat Cyprus home and away, they must additionally win by 15 or more in their return clash with the Austrians to earn the sole exit from this group.

“Probably mathematics become more important now,” Lorenzo said. “We need to get the players recovered and beat Cyprus by as much as possible.”

Defeat to the Cypriots in Nicosia (or even in the home tie in February) would bring a stark reality.

The guarantee of a drop into a final, final qualifying round next August against the likes of Luxembourg, Slovakia and Switzerland. Effectively, the bottom of Europe’s Division B, a decade after GB thought they had left that trough behind for good.

A team that has forgotten how to win needs to find a formula fast. While their female counterparts possess a culture, a unity of spirit, a continuity of care under their coach Chema Buceta, no such comfort exists for the men, Murray – arguably the most thoughtful member of the current roster – hints.

“It’s hard to put a finger on the problem,” he says. “Defensively you have to lock down the man in front of you and work together as a team.

“It’s not just about individuals trying to get theirs. It’s about coming together as a team when you’re only here for a short period of time.

“There are quite a few of us who have been in this for a long time. It’s about putting your best effort forward, not just individual performance.”

Defence, even more than offense, requires unity of thought. An assignment here, help there, adjustments by rotation. As Lorenzo conceded after seeing his team conceding 92 points to Austria, including 49 to a single foe, “We need to focus the team on defence.”

Perfectly possible, given that GB’s final two World Cup qualifiers in June saw an average concession of 66.

But it is not, ultimately, about statistics. It’s about victories, however they come.

“We have talked about getting over the line, making plays when they’re needed,” Murray concedes.

“Austria wasn’t even close at the end and it was down to the first half when they really hurt us. We need to learn how to win. Austria showed a team who really know how to work together. They showed us.”

Photo: Mansoor Ahmed

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