Greece Rule Britannia in FIBA World Cup qualifier opener

Mansoor Ahmed

They might have fielded a team unfamiliar with each other but led by former Baskonia and Panathinaikos big man Ioannis Bourousis, Greece overcame Great Britain 95-92 after overtime in the opening FIBA World Cup qualifier in Leicester, Friday night.

Bourousis, the lone returnee from Greece’s Eurobasket 2017 camapign led all scorers with 32 points as they begin their road to China with a win in Group H. Dan Clark led GB with 17 points.

“It was a great game, both teams, they play their best because this is a strange period about the games, everybody is only about for a few days, “said Greece coach Thanasis Skourtopoulos. “We have to prepare everything. And of course in this situation the British team, changed the coach, like us but they keep almost all of the team from Eurobasket.

“For us, we have to change everything, we had only one player to continue and you have to understand in three days we have to create something new.”

With a full-court press on show, Great Britain came back from an 82-74 deficit with 52 seconds left to sensationally tie the game with 0.1 left thanks to a lay-up from debutant Tarik Phillip.

The hosts led for the majority of overtime but were never able to pull away from the stubborn Greeks who then won the game with 3.4 seconds left thanks to a three-pointer from Ioannis Athinaiou.

“After a very good fourth quarter, the last three minutes and when we got nine points difference, we tried to destroy everything we built,” Skourtopoulos added. “Alright I understand, I know that my players are under a lot of pressure. The team of [Great Britain] is very good, tough on defence. They steal the ball, we don’t get back on defence, we don’t realise the score and that was the biggest mistake for us, and I think the only mistake.”

“I’m very disappointed,” declared GB coach Tony Garbelotto.

“I thought we threw the game away. I’m proud of the guys, the way they fought to get themselves aback in the game. I take responsibility. As much as the coach of Greece can say we had a number of players back for EuroBasket, we had a new coaching staff and a number of new guys. “We’re trying to mould something in a slightly different way from coach Prunty. But I take responsibility because it was a poor play call at then of the overtime period. And that’s a win GB had to convert.”

Murcia forward Ovie Soko scored Great Britain’s first five points in a scrappy opening couple of minutes where both teams were clearly unfamiliar with each other thanks to the short space of time the two sides had to practice and familarise themselves with their temporary surroundings.

A three-pointer from AEK Athens’ Giannoulis Larentzakis gave Greece a narrow 18-17 lead to close the first quarter but GB were still the more comfortable of the two teams, getting open shots and playing solid defence. And the hosts’ play was rewarded as Teddy Okereafor scored back-to-back points to restore the Brits’ cushion.

A three-pointer from the returning Myles Hesson after nine months out of the fold handed GB a 30-24 lead but they surrendered that cushion quickly as Greece managed to tie the score at 37-37 at the half.

A 9-2 run for Great Britain, highlighted by two three-pointers, back-to-back from Gareth Murray and Dan Clark gave the hosts the lead again only for the Greeks to counter with a 9-0 run of their own to take a 55-54 lead.

Greece had their biggest lead of the game late in the fourth quarter at 76-65 and even enjoyed an eight-point advantage with less than a minute left. The visitors nearly blew it, but roared on by a vocal away following, restored control and picked up what could be a vital road win.