Brave Great Britain’s World Cup Qualifying bid took a killer blow at the hands of Serbia in a close contest in Newcastle.
Head Coach Mark Steutel’s men put in a passionate, intense display against their equally committed visitors at the Vertu Motors Arena.
But they could not overhaul them despite a late push as they slipped to a 1-6 record in qualifying games, meaning they now cannot qualify for the finals.
Gabe Olaseni had a game-high 20 points to go with seven rebounds while the tireless Luke Nelson had 15 and nine assists.
Dusan Ristic led the Serbs’ scoring with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Steutel said: “It’s about trying to find the right rhythm at the right times and in the fourth I really felt like we were right there and we were a couple of possessions on both sides of the ball away from getting our noses in front.
“I’m so proud of the guys. We’ve worked the right way every day. We came back in after the summer and these guys continue to go above and beyond for the jersey.”
Olaseni said: “Tonight we showed we can compete with some of the best teams in Europe. We’re past the point of moral victories – wins feel great, losses feel terrible but we’ve got a good group of guys and great coaching staff and we’re just focusing on Monday and playing for the programme.”
Steutel took pride in performance that, with a number of regulars absent and Dan Clark moving to his new off-court role, saw him send out an unfamiliar starting five of Nelson, Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye, Carl Wheatle, Jamell Anderson and Olaseni.
Nelson paced the home side early with 11 first-quarter points as they started the second period just 21-20 down.
Debutant Aaron Menzies scored his first senior points early in the second with a thunderous dunk as Steutel’s men went into the break chasing a 38-34 deficit.
Serbia pushed their advantage out into double figures in the third as their intensity told before GB trimmed their lead back to 57-51 going into the final period.
A Patrick Whelan three and repeated trips to the line for Olaseni helped keep GB in contention in the opening five minutes of the final quarter before Jordan Williams cut the deficit to five with a breakaway dunk with 2.33 remaining.
Wheatle made it 70-68 with 43 seconds left before Ognjen Jaramaz’s layup and a pair of Danilo Andusic free throws sealed it for the visitors.
Whelan hit 10 points with 3/4 shooting from three-point range while Wheatle and Williams scored seven apiece.
Danilo Andusic had 14 for Serbia and Marko Jagodic-Kuridza had 10.