Nobody was expecting a close run thing between Ireland and San Marino but the sheer barbarity the hosts put on display in the opening quarter set the tone for an utter rout. Emmet Ryan witnessed the carnage up close
The first few days of action had shown that San Marino appeared to be the weakest of the five sides in the FIBA European Championships for Small Countires. Just how wide that gulf between them and the contenders was hammered home starkly in the first 10 minutes. For 9 minutes and 51 seconds, San Marino couldn’t do anything from the field. Only a three from Francesco Palmieri close to the death gave them something to show for an offensive display that only managed to put up 10 shots in the opening quarter, having missed the first 9 of them.
Clearly the lax perimeter D against Andorra had been hammered home by Ireland coach Mark Keenan during the rest day for the home side as this was just angry stuff. There’s the scene in Remember the Titans where the assistant coach tells his side that the opposition won’t gain another yard that night. What follows is a montage of violent hits and domination. That was Hollywood, this was Tallaght and the stout defensive performance was paired up with a free flowing offensive display.
The second quarter was slightly less emphatic but still dominant from the hosts. By the mid point of the frame, Jordan Blount was the only Irish player dressed that had yet to score in the game. Blount had a bucket chalked off for a slightly harsh offensive foul call but there was no doubt about his bucket right on the 2 minute mark before the end of the half. The entire roster on the scoreboard and a growing lead as it already felt like time for the visitors to empty their bench just to give their starters a break from the onslaught.
The only blot on the first half from the hosts really was Blount’s bad luck with the refs. If the first offensive foul call on him was harsh, the second seemed to be because he had the temerity to be bigger than his opponent as no infringement seemed obvious. Even that was a bit of a stretch as blots go although Keenan will probably be mindful of the officials going forward this week, to know which ones are unlikely to just let the guys play so to speak.BallinEurope has a book, a real life actual book called I Like it Loud, and you can buy it on Amazon now. It’s here as a book and here in Kindle form.
The second half started a touch sloppy for the home team as the seemingly inevitable move to a 40 point lead kept on eluding them. The passing and D had both lost a touch of sharpness so it was no surprise to see Keenan call a timeout out just to firm things up, despite the wide margin between the sides.
Not that it seemed to do much as Ireland remained far from efficient as San Marino sought to at least get the moral victory of coming out on top in a single quarter’s play. They managed it, taking the frame 23-21 to leave Ireland a touch frustrated not to have stretched their lead.
The challenge in a tournament like this, for the favoured sides at least, is in maintaining focus for the full 40 minutes. There are going to be one-sided games, Ireland almost certainly have another against Gibraltar on Saturday. In these, it is easy to get into some bad habits mentally. The challenge for the coaching team is to minimise these. Keenan’s heavy rotation has certainly helped to some degree, with everyone on the roster knowing they have a shot at playing serious minutes, but it’s still a battle to keep that focus before the game or games that matter come.
The slump was finally broken in the fourth, with a Lorcan Murphy fast break lay-up finally getting Ireland 40 points in front for the first time, with 5.52 left. The century was reached with 3.09 left and there was a slim chance still of making the all-time tournament scoring record of 114, set by Ireland in the first ever game in the competition over Gibraltar in 1988. A couple of missed offensive opportunities and a decision to ease it out meant the record was soon beyond reach but te final score of 107-59 left no doubt that this was a whupping.
In the other game of the day, Andorra moved into pole position to secure bronze and remain in the hunt for silver and the overall title. Their win over Gibraltar moved them to 2-1 on the tournament and they face Malta on Saturday where they need a win to have any chance of finishing above third.