Great Britain’s promotion bid came up short at the European Under 20 Championships in Sarajevo despite an 85-74 victory over the Czech Republic.

Ultimately doomed by a pair of opening defeats, Tim Lewis’ side ended up fourth in Group D with a 3-2 record as the Czechs and Portugal – both on 4-1 – progressed into the latter stages.

It means GB now drop into the round robin to fight for, as best, ninth, way short of the expectations held when they arrived in Bosnia in search of a spot in Division A.

“It was a great team performance tonight and it’s very frustrating not to qualify,” said Lewis, whose tenure as head coach is likely to come under scrutiny when the side returns.

“We played some great basketball and our players stepped up. We had a great start from Ryan and just stuck to our game plan. I am pleased with our team performances in the last three games and this tournament has been a huge learning curve.”

Already knowing that his team could not progress at the outset of the game after Portugal’s 77-69 win over Finland, Richards provided the perfect start in the quest for consolation with an early three-pointer as the 20-year-old fired 13 of a game-high 27 points in an early flurry as GB took a 13-7 lead.

The NBA draftee had scored all of his side’s points as they opened up a six point gap at 13-7. Devon van Oostrum broke his team-mate’s streak with a basket to put GB into a commanding position as the Czechs were forced into a premature time-out. The dominance continued when play resumed as Richards took his tally to 16 points with a second score from beyond the arc. Another time-out soon followed after GB stretched their advantage to 16 points on the back of the last thirteen points.

Czech Republic bounced back with a strong finish with four succesive three pointers but Richards had already taken his impressive tally to 21 points, as the Brits led 28-21 at the end of the first quarter.

Alex Marcotullio opened the second with consecutive triples while a three point play from van Oostrum pushed the lead back into double figures. Czech Republic battled to reduce their arrears before a three pointer from van Oostrum made it 42-28.

Ondrej Peterka responded with five points in quick succession but a late basket from Fraser gave the Brits a commanding 47-35 lead at the half time interval. GB were in total control with a significantly higher shooting percentage, more rebounds and less turnovers with Tim Lewis’ side 20 minutes from a potentially tournament-saving shock.

The Czechs were in Division A last year and were not troubled in their first four games prior to this match. The second half began slowly as both teams missed chances early on until Mares struck with back to back triples to bring the Czechs within four points.

Lewis called a time-out and his team responded immediately as a dunk from Ali Fraser – an under-used presence until the latter stages of the first phase – broke GB’s three minute drought in the third. GB then scored the next five points to extend their advantage to nine points. Richards added a free throw for his first point since his 21 point blitz in the first quarter. After another quiet spell ensued,

Kamil Riha netted a three pointer to keep the Czechs in contention. The momentum was shifting and GB soon found their lead trimmed to a single point, taking a slender 55-54 lead into the final quarter. Crucially, it was GB who opened the scoring in the fourth knowing that they had to hold on to their lead in order to progress.

The defence stood firm holding the Czechs at bay for nearly three minutes while Adam Thoseby converted all three free throw attempts following a fouled three pointer attempt. On two occasions, Halada helped his side close the gap to two points but Richards and van Oostrum made it a six point game with five minutes remaining.

The Czechs continued to apply the pressure but GB remained resilient knocking down important free throws to keep in front. Every time Czech Republic came within two points GB converted at the other end. Michel Sotnar had made it a one point game only for Thoseby and Richards to score at the other end making the score 75-70 in favour of the young Brits with two minutes remaining.

Just as it looked as though the Czechs were closing in again, Thoseby connected from downtown to ease their breathing space. Van Oostrum failed twice from the foul line giving the Czechs another opportunity to launch one last testing attack with Mares closing the gap to five.

However, it was too little too late as GB completed a remarkable holding their nerve down the stretch with the final six points in a tense encounter.

Lewis’ young team now begin their classification phase on Wednesday against Israel in a pool that also includes Iceland and the Finns.

And they are already at a disadvantage with a 0-1 record carried forward, effectively requiring two victories to advance.

“We have to re-group now and improve as a team because we are now involved in another tournament and want to finish as high as possible,” said Lewis.

“We have two games and we have to take care of business.”

Report: Brad Gains


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