GB U20 Men finished in 8th position at the FIBA European Championships, following a spirited loss to Croatia by 82-63 in a play-off game to determine the final team positions of the tournament.
Croatia started strongly and looked every inch the favourites as they took a quick 7-0 advantage, helped by GB committing two early fouls. A quick GB time-out helped get them organised and Niall Harris soon got GB’s first points to make it 7-2. A fast-break opportunity by Kayne Henry to Brian Perez for a lay-up, and at 11-6 it was Croatia’s turn to talk things over.
After the time-out, it was GB who continued to press their opponents. Perez hit a three to continue to make Croatia question themselves, before he broke through for a lay-up soon after to tie the game at 11 apiece, with less than 4 minutes left in the quarter.
Croatia hit back with a three from Josip Batinić to put them up by three. But GB weren’t about to cave. A layup and a three-point shot by Kaiyem Cleary in quick succession, followed by a dunk from Nathan Robinson, and Croatia were suddenly on the back-foot as the quarter ended with GB up 16-20.
After the restart, four points for Croatia from free-throws tied the game. Croatia’s full-court press briefly rattled GB and a steal for Croatia at the half-way line gave Darko Bajo an easy dunk to put Croatia back on top with just over two minutes played. A three-point shot from Jacob Round with the shot clock winding down got GB back within touching distance.
But no sooner had GB pulled back, than Croatia started to find another gear. A three-point play by Croatia’s Jan Palokaj’s, followed by a lay-up from Bajo, and Croatia were suddenly threatening to pull away at 31-27. A fast-break lay-up for Batinic and Croatia were up by six with four minutes left in the quarter. With GB in foul trouble, Croatia were unable to capitalise from the stripe, but continued to find their way to the basket, at the same time as GB’s shots deserted them. By the end of the quarter, Croatia were up by 11 (42-31).
The third quarter saw Croatia maintain their advantage and GB struggled to eat into the lead of the first half. Gradually GB were looking more composed in their passing, but the diligent Croatian defence meant that getting clean shots proved tricky.
With four minutes left in the quarter, GB were back in foul trouble. Again Croatia couldn’t take advantage, but were able to do enough to keep the lead at 10 points (58-48).
At the start of the fourth quarter, Antonio Jordano hit a quick three, and Mateo Vidović hit a two, to make it an ominous start for GB. Another three by Jordano and a two by Palokaj, and GB were looking at an 18-point deficit (68-50).
With five minutes left on the clock, Cleary’s four-point play, followed by a Robinson steal and Cleary dunk, gave GB brief hope that they could eat away at the Croatian lead, as they took a time-out to regroup at 75-61.
The Croatian lead, however, was too great and they ran out 82-63 winners. Cleary finished the game as GB’s top scorer with 17 points, Niall Harris with 10 points and five assists, Round with 12 points, and Perez with an impressive 10 rebounds and nine points.
Although Croatia were more clinical in attack, GB demonstrated good movement, and a strong appetite to compete in every area of the court, to finish the tournament with a creditable and spirited display.