Great Britain finished their EuroBasket 2022 qualifiers with a brilliant 94-73 win over France.

Marc Steutel’s side needed to defeat the French by an improbable differential of 24 to top the group.

Few gave them a prayer.

In the end, they threw a Hail Mary and came up just short at the close of an extraordinary display in Podgorica. Never before had GB beaten an opponent ranked as high as sixth in the world.

And there were virtuoso displays for the team’s two French-based stars with Ovie Soko hitting a game-high 27 points and Myles Hesson adding 23, including a perfect dozen attempts from the foul line.

What a difference from the humbling reverse in Pau, just four months ago.

“I thought we were physically and mentally locked in,” said interim head coach Marc Steutel.

“I spoke to the guys and we felt like we wanted to right a few wrongs from the last game. All week, I felt like the guys were just locked in every second and I felt that transcended onto the floor, particularly in the first half.

“We spoke about trying to get paint touches, trying to rebound collectively, take away transition points.

“They had 35 points at the half and that’s as good a first half defensively as GB have played. The guys, at half-time, felt there were a few possessions we could have controlled. And when you’re that locked in defensively, the offence takes care of itself.”

GB never trailed, setting out their stall by racing into a 10-3 lead.

The gap kept growing, unfathomably so.

Dan Clark started and finished a 13-0 run with the captain’s three-pointer bringing a 39-18 lead with 5:44 left in second. The cushion extended to as much as 23.

An 8-0 France run cut the GB advantage to 46-31, forcing Steutel into a timeout with 1:52 left in the second.

No panic required.

After heading in 52-35 to the good at half-time, the expected rally from Les Bleus never came and their rivals were able to settle into their advantage, leaning on sterling defence to secure a famous victory that presses Steutel’s claims on a permanent position.

“These guys enjoy playing together,” he said. “They make reads off each other. They know each other’s strengths. They share the ball. They don’t care who puts the ball in the hoop.

“I’m proud of our performance. We went 25-25 from the line. We won all four quarters. It’s a really proud night for British basketball.”

A team performance in every sense. No matter that the group winners were simply woeful. They found pressure at every turn and duly folded.

“We were aggressive,” said Hesson. “We got a lot of paint touches early and didn’t have to rely on our outside shots. I feel as though we dominated them for the whole game physically and that was our game plan going into it.”

More of the same to come, he trusts, following the biggest victorious ranking differential in GB history of 36 places in the current table.

“I feel like we can carry on with this type of momentum going into the next few windows,” Hesson added. “The sky’s the limit for us.”

An irate France coach Vincent Collet knows he will re-jig his squad extensively for the Tokyo Olympics with his NBA and EuroLeague stars ready to return.

Still, he has had few days as bad as this during his long tenure.

“We played very bad,” he said.

“We started the game with no energy and no intensity against a very good team. We must congratulate Great Britain. Despite that both teams were qualified, it was very easy to see that game was more important for them than for us. It was important for them after losing to us in Pau by 23.

“They wanted to show their qualification for the Euros was deserved. We talked about that this morning. But instead of staying patient and being smart, we panicked… Hesson and Soko dominated us.”

Elsewhere, Montenegro took a consolation 82-75 win over finals co-hosts Germany.


Game StatsUpdates

Game Notes

GB starters v France: Nelson, Okereafor, Mockford, Hesson, Olaseni.

Final group standings: 1. France (4-2 – Q), 2. Great Britain (4-2 – Q), 3. Montenegro (3-3), 4. Germany (1-5 – Q)

Estonia became the penultimate qualifier despite losing 86-84 to North Macedonia with Lithuania the last team in, edging out Denmark 77-76 when Mantas Kalnietis blocked a possible game-winner from Adama Darboe with seven seconds left.

Images: FIBA

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