Ovie Soko

Great Britain defeated Austria 78-75 in their closing EuroBasket pre-qualifier in Vienna. 

A diligent victory, paced by 19 points and nine rebounds from Ovie Soko, yet not enough to overhaul their hosts for first place in their group with Alberto Lorenzo’s side required to triumph by 14 to earn an automatic berth in the main EuroBasket 2021 qualifiers.

Falling short of that target means they will face Luxembourg and Kosovo this summer in a three-team third round qualifying group. It will be played in a home-and-away format, with the teams facing each other over six game days from August 3-21.

Only the group winner from that will advance into the main qualifying round which begins in December. Failure to progress would leave GB with no competitive games for two years until the pre-qualifying round for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

Tense times lie ahead.

Ultimately, there were not enough early gains to make sufficient inroads.

“The first half we didn’t fight enough and play with intensity on defence,” Lorenzo said. “The second half was much better, with the pace of the game. we controlled the game. On defence, we tried to find some easy baskets but I think we played two different scales.”

Austria effectively extended their aggregate advantage with a 12-5 start and although an immediate six unanswered points awoke the visitors, there were shades of last November in Manchester.

Sylvan Landesberg had 48 points in Austria’s away victory and he scored nine of his game-high 26 here in the opening period, bullying his way to the line where the American-born wing was 11/11 at half-time.

Up 27-19 after the opening period, the hosts surged as much as 12 ahead when Marvin Ogunsipe converted a jumper.

Yet a 10-2 run for GB forced Austria to take a time out, trimming the home lead cut to 40-37 with 2:54 remaining before it was re-extended to 48-44 at the break.

Andrew Lawrence stays out of Filip Kramer’s reach

In his second cap, Conner Washington was as impressive as he was in his debut last Thursday against Cyprus. Under his watch, Landesberg was limited to one field goal attempt in the third and it paved the way for a GB surge.

Dan Clark hit a three-pointer as GB drew level at 51-51 and then the visitors secured their first lead through a Soko jumper which was quickly extended by Teddy Okereafor amid a 7-0 run.

Momentum shifts. But not irrevocably.

Okereafor and Ashley Hamilton were locked on successive drives to basket with Thomas Klepeisz draining an off-balance three in between.

But Hamilton converted on a breakaway and at the conclusion of the third, GB were left needing to win the fourth by 12 points or more with a narrow 62-60 cushion.

The final push came.

Nine points without reply were capped by a three from Washington. It could even have been more but for squandered drives.

With four minutes remaining, the prize was teasingly within reach with a 72-63 advantage.

But even with Myles Hesson chipping in 18 points and nine rebounds, it was not to be, with a 6-2 home spurt doing just enough to deny Lorenzo’s men enough of a margin as time ebbed away.

“It’s the first time we’ve won three games in a row since 2010 so there are a lot of positives to take away from this, even though we didn’t go through,” Washington said.

“Going into the game, we knew we needed to win by 14. We tried not to focus on that too much but just come out and play hard and play our game and try and limit what they wanted to do. We had our focus points to try and shut players down.”

Game StatsUpdates

Meanwhile a crowdfunding appeal set up to pay the costs incurred by Great Britain’s coaching staff is nearing its initial target. MVP revealed that cuts at British Basketball had forced the backroom personnel to work for free, with one assistant paying his own way to Austria. But a funding page was nearing its £300 goal ahead of tipoff.

Notes GB starters: Okereafor, Lawrence, Hesson, Soko, Olaseni

GB’s EuroBasket pre-qualifiers, Third Round Schedule: August 7 Kosovo (a), August 10 Luxembourg (h), August 17 Kosovo (h), August 21 Luxembourg (a)

Final Standings

Group D P W L F A Pts GD
Austria 4 3 1 324 299 7 25
Great Britain 3 3 1 319 279 7 40
Cyprus 4 0 4 247 312 4 -65

Photos: Mansoor Ahmed

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