Great Britain lost 81-74 to Montenegro in their opening qualifier for EuroBasket 2021.

Nip and tuck in Podgorica on Friday night after a poor start from the guests.

Runs and counter-punches. But GB could never quite overhaul their group challengers despite ferocious pressure and a game-high 20 points from Myles Hesson.

Not a disastrous start but perhaps a feeling that this was an opportunity missed.

“It was a tough game,” said Hesson. “A hostile environment. We played well in spurts. There’s a few things we can learn from for the next game.”

Marc Steutel’s men never led. And dug themselves an early hole, missing their opening five shots and falling 8-0 in arrears before Gabe Olaseni broke the spell.

Steutel told his players in a timeout: “Settle and relax into the game.” It took a while. Seven turnovers in the opening period underlined the early fragility.

American-born Justin Cobbs was punishing. The hosts up 24-14 headed into the second.

Finally, GB awoke. Ovie Soko, on his return to international duty, underlined his abilities at this level.

2/2 from the foul line for the Love Island celebrity capped an immediate 10-2 run that slashed Montenegro’s lead.

And then 3/3 from Luke Nelson began a 7-3 burst that cut the Montenegrin advantage to a solitary point.

Better defence, smoother shooting. No lead, though.

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Although ample athleticism on display with Hesson elevating like a helicopter to trim the gap to 39-38 before the Birmingham-born forward fouled Suad Sehovic on a three-point attempt with six seconds left in the first half.

He slotted 3/3 to give hosts a 42-38 half-time lead. GB, vitally, remained in contention.

They regressed speedily in the third. 12 unanswered points saw the cushion stretched with an open three from Danilo Nikolic.

Hesson was scrambling for the scores needed to keep the guests within reach. Another spectacular finish, this time an alley-oop from a Soko feed.

But a repeated offence, Gareth Murray fouling Sehovic as the third period ended just as the second.

Down 62-48, the Brits were forced to pursue a rally.

Hesson instigated a retort with a 9-2 spell that brought his side within seven.

Self-inflicted errors and patchy ball movement dented their charge. And trailing by seven inside the closing two minutes, GB needed to bear in mind that head to head with their opponents may eventually determine the third qualifying spot from this group with France and Germany – playing simultaneously with the Germans winning 83-69- expected to head the table.

They pressed gamely on, and with resilience.

Soko made a pair from the line to reduce the gulf to 76-72 but then Sacha Killeya-Jones and Okereafor each had good looks from three-point range that fell maddeningly short of their target.

Hesson thought he had converted an offensive board but instead committed a foul. Small margins.

Cobbs capitalised. Off a timeout, Soko – who added 18 points and nine rounds – took a feed from Hesson to slam home. One-shot game. 13 seconds left.

A foul conceded. Hobbs resolute from the line again, a near-perfect 11/12 in leading Montenegro with 19 points and eight assists.

And with a capacity crowd turning volume to max, GB could not find a late miracle despite shooting 48% from the field and out-rebounding their foes 36-35.

“There were areas where we tried to be specific – the team really tried to exploit the tempo and pace of the game,” said Steutel after his debut as the caretaker head coach in place of the absent Nate Reinking.

“But credit to Montenegro for executing on key possessions. We’ll go back and look at it.”

Game StatsUpdates

Game Notes GB starters: Okereafor, Nelson, Hesson, Soko, Olaseni

GB host Germany on Monday in Newcastle.

Group table: 1. Germany (1-0), 2. Montenegro (1-0), 3. Great Britain (0-1), 4. France (0-1)

Photo: FIBA

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