France pulverised Great Britain in Pau to ask all sorts of questions.

Defeat, for the visitors, wasn’t unexpected. The margin of 79-56. Not the best look.

After conceding the first 15 points of this EuroBasket qualifier, Marc Steutel’s men were evidently over-matched. No shame on his players, though, even there were unforced errors along the way.

Just big picture posers that were floating within FIBA’s biosecure bubble, but escaping into the harsh world beyond. How is it that two adjoining nations are so far apart in their structures, their impact and their basketball success stories? Once not so disparate, now with a gulf in between. Hardly a coincidence, surely, that French basketball is so resolutely unified from top to bottom.

British basketball? All over the shop.

A tale of woe reflected on the floor in an opening quarter in which it took almost five minutes before a basket from Gabe Olaseni could make any splash against the tidal wave in blue.

Down 19-2 before Dan Clark’s three-pointer momentarily slipped through utterly resolute defence from Vincent Collet’s side, GB completed the opening period with a deficit of 19 and a mere 2/21 shooting. “France came out very aggressively and we weren’t ready to deal with that,” Clark acknowledged.

“They showed they are a very good team and they showed us how to play defence at this level and what we need to do to compete with teams at this level.”

Amath M’Baye, who ended with a game-high 21 points, was dominant. Others too, with Axel Bouteille hitting 5-for-6 three-pointers as France converted 29/64 from the field to move top of the group with 2-1 record.

The Brits, now 1-2, and in dire need of a victory over Montenegro here on Sunday, were paced by Ashley Hamilton’s 12 points with the Plymouth forward lending some valuable energy off the bench.

But his colleagues were stung as swarms came their way with Myles Hesson singled out and only Olaseni and Clark able to make any real offensive imprint with eleven apiece.

Up 46-20 at half-time, it was the lowest tally by any opponent since Collet first took charge a decade ago, a spell which has seen his team win European titles and establish itself within the global elite. “The spread at half-time was more than we had expected in the best case scenario,” he admitted.

Even with their healthy NBA contingent effectively barred from participating in this international window, the French have abundant talent in the upper reaches of European basketball. But consistency too, in their coach and around the team, one able to insulate them from roster changes.

Once again, GB’s official head coach Nate Reinking was absent, with BBF sources explaining that his second window on the outside was down to an ask from the Cleveland Cavaliers for him to be around during last week’s NBA Draft. Still out of sight.

Who could really blame the London 2012 Olympian for prioritising his employers, who might soon switch him from their D-League affiliate to the golden view from a NBA bench? But that choice does GB no favours at all.

Steutel marshalled his troops admirably in the second half, his role made no simpler by absenteeism here. “There were some positives,” he insisted. Rex Pflueger of Newcastle Eagles earned three minutes of a debut. Prior to that, an 8-0 run to begin the third quarter lifted the mood.

Yet immediately, French responded with seven points in a row. An impossible uphill battle. Despite multiple changes of their own, they could lean back on continuity and their system. “Everyone in the federation does a great job of picking players who are going to fit well together,” M’Baye underlined. Duly noted.

Only briefly did the guests trim the deficit to under 20 in the fourth despite Collet observing a “drop in intensity” from his men.

“I would not say it was an unfair fight,” said Clark, who added six rebounds. “They were obviously more ready for us from the beginning, I think we showed in the second that that we can compete with them.

“France is obviously a great basketball nation with a great team and even if they don’t have their NBA players here, they will have a great group of players. We knew that coming in. We were prepared for that but we didn’t start the way we should have. That set the tone for the game.”

No time to dwell for GB. Less than 48 hours remain until taking on Montenegro – seven-point winners when the teams last met – in a game that will have a mammoth bearing on hopes of making the 2022 finals.

Some hope taken forward, Steutel maintained.

“Holding them to 33 points in the second half, I felt we had more emphasis on the defensive side. We got into the pace of the game. I don’t want to say we matched their physicality but we kind of were the aggressor.

“Defensively, we have to be more consistent for longer period. And offensively we have to continue to build our roles as a group, execute and maintain good spacing against that kind of pressure, if we get disrupted. And if teams take our first action, what our counter-action is.

“I’m not a believer in moral victories. But we were +3 in the second half and that gives us a platform to build on. Because we knew with the parameters coming into the window, this game was going to be a challenge.”

Elsewhere in Group G, the Montenegrins boosted their own hopes by holding off Germany 80-74.

Game StatsUpdates


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

GB starters v France: Okereafor, Nelson, Hesson, Olaseni, Yeboah. Connor Washington was a DNP-CD

Photos: FIBA


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