The stands were empty but the buckets were pouring in as Belgium and Great Britain delivered an offensive feast on Friday. Emmet Ryan reports from the opener in Istanbul in a game where Britain’s failure to compete with the Lions on the boards cost them a chance at a win to open EuroBasket 2017
Quiet is the mother of understatements. The few traveling Belgian and British fans tried to make an atmosphere but they were easily outnumbered by volunteers, making the Fenerbahce arena cavernous. Every squeak of every shoe could be heard clearly. The action however was far more lively as neither defence showed up in the first quarter with both sides taking plenty of chances. It was a lively game of offence with Jonathan Tabu quickly racking up 9 points while Gabe Olaseni took on the early scoring load for Great Britain, in their first EuroBasket game since 2013, before Kieron Achara got hot at the back end of the frame. Great Britain should have been further ahead but kept letting the Lions get to the line and Belgium punished them hard with a 10 or 10 start on free throws.
Dan Clark, the longtime warrior for Great Britain, had a nice little shake and bake to extend Britain’s lead briefly before Belgium got back on level terms. For all the scoring, this didn’t feel like a track meet. Both sides were just that efficient on offence, not needing to force matters at all to put up impressive tallies. Defence was talking the afternoon off here as the sides just kept trading buckets. I mean, that was essentially the story of the half. GB went on offence, probably scored. Belgium went on offence, probably scored. It was tremendous fun and an ideal appetiser for the three game slate on opening day in Istanbul.
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And the scores kept coming. This was ridiculous as neither side looked even bothered with defending as the half wore on, irrespective of their capacity to stop the opponent. These teams had come here to make buckets and play defence, and they were all out of defence. At the half it was Belgium with the nominal advantage, 54-53.
Britain were doing more inside than Belgium, easily busting through, but their own mistakes were woeful with help decisions leaving shooters wide open and the Lions punished them. With Belgium dominating the boards, it was going to take more than just efficiency for Britain to make a winning return to EuroBasket.
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Great Britain got off to a good start in the third with scores coming quickly, pushing into an 8 point lead Clark got into it with Axel Hervelle after the Belgian and Olaseni hit the floor together but there wasn’t much in it. With Clark sitting after his row, Achara got to work but Belgium were on their tails hard, ending a run of 14 straight misses from the field, and made it a one score game pretty quickly. The pace however was finally easing off to something more plausible, after the ludicrous first half scoring proved too hard to maintain. A Jean Salumu three pushed Belgium back in front and then Sam van Rossum pushed them into a two-possession lead late in the frame. With 10 minutes to play, Belgium had overcome a massive offensive slump to lead 73-67.
Through the early part of the fourth it was all about not letting Belgium stretch out too far for Britain. They couldn’t afford to let this hole get bigger but a big three by Salumu felt like a punch to the gut for the underdogs. Britain kept fighting but the damage was done. Belgium had got the win they absolutely needed on Day 1 to put themselves in a good spot for the rest of the group phase. For GB, the task only gets harder from here.
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