The Nate Reinking era began with a 71-63 win for Great Britain over Kosovo on Wednesday.

The right result, if not a stellar performance in Mitrovica, one that saw his side toil to shake off the rank outsiders in the three-team group in the third and final round of pre-qualifying for EuroBasket 2021 which also includes Luxembourg.

Shooting in the first half inflicted little damage. Better foes would have dealt out punishment.

Led by 15 points and 13 rebounds from Gabe Olaseni, plus 14 points from Luke Nelson, GB did just enough in the fourth period to prevail.

Not an auspicious opening. Still, in the context of the lowly place they currently sit, even small gains are welcome.

“It’s a special win,” the new man at the helm declared. “The first one is always special but we still have more work to do.

“I’m just happy the guys stuck together and pulled this one out.”

Forging 6-0 ahead, the visitors still resembled a side which, predictably, were working through the growing pains enforced by a late coaching change and a mere five days of practice.

Inside, the reliable hand of Olaseni muscled through. Much of the rest was brutal, even in grinding out a 15-10 advantage after the opening quarter with Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye earning a speedy debut.

Conner Washington, bound for Hungary this season, downed a three. The remainder of his colleagues were 0/11. It was a trend that was prolonged.

Kosovo, beaten 88-80 by Luxembourg in their group opener, were able to cling on amid such profligacy with their zone defence troublesome.

Gezim Morina hit a deep three to draw Kosovo level with 1:34 left in the half and then Valon Bunjaku replicated the damage from the same spot to give the hosts a brief lead.

It was speedily erased by the returning Nelson converted who downed two free throws and then stole in-bound pass and laid the ball in.

Up 28-27 at the break, GB were ragged and in need of cohesion. Their contrast in fortunes inside and out was stark. An efficient 8/16 from 2-point range. A horrific 2/15 from 3-point terrain.

A 9-2 Kosovan run to open the third furnished them with a peak 36-30 advantage. Their rivals, disjointed offensively and defensively, urgently needed a spark.

It came from Washington, growing ever more comfortable at this level, and his side would never trail again.

He hit two threes in an 16-2 burst that suddenly had others following his lead with Kyle Johnson, Mo Soluade and Myles Hesson, with the captain for the evening grabbing 8 of his 13 points in the quarter, also colluding from long-range.

Mikaile Tmusic’s third three slashed Kosovo’s deficit back to 50-49 with the opening mark of the fourth. Slow to rotate even with a smaller nimble line-up around Olaseni, the Balkan minnows discovered open spots even if their long-range missiles were equally off-target.

Reinking’s men took over three minutes into the period to collect a field goal but the dam burst just enough with Nelson precisely collecting a three on the run amid a priceless 9-3 acceleration.

Still the home side, desperately needing a maiden victory, clawed onwards. Dardan Berisha’s three to trim GB’s deficit to 59-56 with 3:34 left but not enough shots would fall and Drilon Hajrizi’s game high 17 points, plus nine boards, were not enough.

Attacking the rim, bolting forward in transition, the assets were belatedly cashed in.

The new boss able, finally, to rest easy.

“I thought in the first half, both teams were tight but we defended well. Even when we weren’t making shots, we stayed with it defensively. Both halves, their zone broke out flow a little bit and it took us to the second half to get used to it.

“We started moving the ball a little better. And we ended up making shots that were big down the stretch.”

His charges will require better on Saturday against Luxembourg on Saturday when they will chase a fifth consecutive victory.

“It’s great feeling to get a win for Nate in his first game,” Hesson declared.

“Hopefully, we can make it five.”

Onwards, surely upwards.

Game StatsUpdates


Kingsley Okoroh (DNP-CD) and Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye (2 points) earned their first caps. Myles Hesson captained GB for the first time. GB Starters v Kosovo: Nelson, Okereafor, Hesson, Soluade, Olaseni

Group standings: 1. Great Britain (1-0), 2. Luxembourg (1-0), 3. Kosovo (0-2)

Photo: Ahmedphotos


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