GB were able to dominate an under-manned Cyprus side 84-47 and keep their hopes of reaching EuroBasket 2021’s qualification stage alive. Myles Hesson top scored with 18 points, adding six rebounds and two assists. Carl Wheatle had 14 points in support, with Andrew Lawrence and Ovie Soko both adding 11 apiece.
Missing five senior players, including influential centre Anthony King, Cyprus were always going to be up against it and that proved to be the case as GB’s initial tempo and aggression on the glass proved decisive. Both teams traded triples to get off the mark, with Cypriot captain Andreas Sizopoulos (11 points, five rebounds, two assists) getting his side on the board before a quick-fire reply from Teddy Okereafor levelled things up. The hosts would then go on an 8-2 run in the following four minutes to begin establishing a lead they’d never relinquish. Early tempo from GB proved too much for Cyprus and further baskets from Andrew Lawrence in particular (11 points, two rebounds, three assists, two steals) allowed the hosts to lead 28-16 at the first change.
GB wouldn’t hit the same heights on offence in the 2nd quarter but an increased effort on defence shut the door for Cyprus, with Group D’s bottom side scoring just eight points in the frame. 28-16 became 32-16 behind a momentum boosting dunk from Dan Clark (four points, three rebounds, two assists), who was recognised pre-game as GB’s latest centurion after his 100th cap in Nicosia in December. It was a quiet night for the GB captain on offence, but his influence was clearly on display throughout the contest. The 2nd quarter was also where Clark’s side began to turn the screw on the boards, finding ways to grab rebounds at both end of the court to assert their dominance. It was that show of force that pushed the GB lead past 20 for the first time in the game, heading into the half up 45-24.
If Cyprus were hoping for a change of fortunes after the break, they were given a rude awakening early in the 3rd quarter. In one of the game’s signature plays, Andrew Lawrence pulled up just outside of the arc and threw a perfect alley-oop pass to a charging Myles Hesson for a dunk that energised the crowd and ended what had been a notable run to start the quarter for Cyprus. Although the visitors managed to keep GB at bay during the 3rd to lose the frame by just 2 points, the difference between the sides on the glass and GB’s ability to score on the fast break were both becoming more apparent. Coach Lorenzo’s side would eventually win the rebound battle 52-23, with a staggering 17-2 difference on the offensive boards.
The final quarter provided GB with a chance to enjoy the occasion and put on a show for the hundreds of fans that had made the trip to the National Basketball Performance Centre in Manchester. A fast break by Kyle Johnson sent GB charging down the floor midway through the 4th, before the GB man lobbed a pass high to Carl Wheatle, who in turn tipped the ball up to Ovie Soko to throw down another signature slam. The hosts used the game’s final minutes to pad their lead and coast to the buzzer, something that could be decisive if the tiebreaker procedure against top side Austria comes down to points scored in Group D.
GB Head coach Alberto Lorenzo:
“We’re happy about the result, but more about the basketball we played, especially on defence and in the 2nd quarter. We started switching on all the guys, and everyone was involved and committed on defence, so I think that’s the key for the game. It’s more about tactically, it’s more about the way the guys were involved on defence as a team.”
GB’s Dan Clark:
“We have to be happy with the result, the most important thing for today was the win and we got that. But secondly, we had the right attitude and we approached the game in the right way. Sometimes these games can be a bit of a bogey game but we approached it in the right way with the right mentality, we took care of business basically. I think we have great potential as a team but I think things like this and taking this mentality forward to different games will help us in the future. Although it looks like this was an easy game I think this in the future will be something we can learn off and take it into future games.”
Cyprus Head Coach Pantelis Gavriel:
“Definitely a huge win for GB, for us it was a tough game as we came here without five experienced players that have played in big leagues before, and they have a lot of experience, quality and talent. We had to replace them with five young guys, 18-years-old, students, and those at 21 and 22-years old without experience and not playing in their team. I think it was tough for the kids to come here and adjust against a huge opponent. But we fought, especially in the 3rd which we only lost by 2 points. But then with a huge difference in rebounds and fast break points, that was huge. Body wise, talent wise, it was tough for us to compete and stay competitive.”
Cyprus’ Andreas Sizopoulos:
“It was difficult for us, because of the score but I feel proud of my team because of the situation back in Cyprus with five senior players not travelling with us. To tell you the truth, It’s a bit of a new era for this team. A lot of the older guys like me are stepping aside to let the new guys come in. It’s a new era and we’re trying to help them step into our shoes and play against these big teams. This game against GB wasn’t that good, but they’ll still have a good memory once they’ve thought it over.”
GB now head to Austria to play on Sunday with their fate in their own hands. A win by 15 points or more will guarantee Coach Lorenzo’s side top spot in Group D and a place in the pot for the qualifiers of EuroBasket 2021. The game tips at 4:00 UK time and can be viewed on the FIBA YouTube channel.