Mansoor Ahmed
Photo: Mansoor Ahmed

Israel improved to 2-1 in Group H of their FIBA World Cup 2019 qualifying group with an 82-75 win over Great Britain in the early game in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

Guy Pnini stepped up in the latter stages of the fourth quarter to lead the winners with 18 points, as they answered back from a double-digit deficit in the third quarter to edge ahead late in the third before remaining calm in the latter stages of the final period to secure the victory.

Richard Howell shot 72 percent from the field to add 16 points for the hosts. Gabe Olaseni led GB with a game-high 19 points on his return, but drop to 0-3.

GB, under new direction with Alberto Lorenzo taking over from the departed Tony Garbelotto, scored the first seven points of the first quarter and were promising at the offensive end in the first half, with terrific off-ball movement leading to high-percentage scores.

And because of their offensive power, the Brits led for the majority of the first two quarters. A three-pointer from Dan Clark with 5:06 left in the second, handed his side a 33-28 lead and a spectacular, off-balance basket from Gareth Murray, earning him a three-point play maintaining Great Britain’s lead later on in the quarter.

The pressures of what has been happening, off the court with Garbelotto stepping down, plus the funding crisis that still could see Great Britain taken out of international competition at all levels didn’t seem to be affecting the players, who took the game to Israel.

However, the hosts were taking full advantage of GB’s defensive frailties, with a bucket load of their points coming inside, most without any pressure as Israel seemed content on attacking the basket for their scores.

GB took a slender 44-43 lead at the break, with Teddy Okereafor hitting his first three attempts from long distance for nine points in the first half.

Gabe Olaseni, one of the stars of the GB EuroBasket 2017 campaign made his return to the line-up following a neck injury. He ended with 19 points. Photo: Mansoor Ahmed

GB’s fairly accurate shooting continued in the third quarter, as Glasgow Rocks swingman Murray hit a corner three to give his side a 49-43 lead early on and a three-point play just after from a returning Gabe Olaseni further showcased the visitors’ strengths at 52-45.

Israel were static, offensively, mainly due to an improved effort on the defensive end by coach Lorenzo’s side. The hosts were missing open looks, they were all of a sudden not finding easy finds inside.

And at the other end, Luke Nelson landed an open three to hand GB their first double-digit lead of the game at 57-47 to force the home side into a timeout, midway through the third.

However, Israel would fight back to narrow GB’s advantage as their offence started to flow more smoothly despite its rough start. A 15-2 run spanning the final three minutes to take a 64-61 lead.

Israel’s lead would grow in the fourth, as they seemed energised at both ends, forcing GB into countless turnovers while at the other end, getting easy scores and having multiple opportunities to do so. The visitors fought their way back into contention and even took the lead with 2:42 left thanks to a three from Murray.

But veteran Guy Pnini drilled a precious four-point play in the next possession and from there, GB’s composure down the stretch lacked as Israel made the game safe to keep in touch in Group H, with GB on the brink of World Cup qualifying elimination.

Photo: Mansoor Ahmed