England had their destiny firmly in their own hands heading into the all important final game in group B yesterday. A win would guarantee safe passage into the quarter finals and that aim was squarely in the sights of the players and coaching staff. When it mattered, the team emphatically delivered, crushing Macedonia 69-38 to set up a date with Russia tomorrow.
The game started positively for England as they repeatedly frustrated their opponents on offence. Macedonia committed 3 shot clock violations inside the first 5 minutes as England gave them very few options. At the other end, England began to click with Jacob Round in particular looking dialled in early. The quarter ended more evenly but England still held a lead after 1, up 17-12. The 2nd was more of the same but England took their play up a notch. Mixing things up on offence saw the powerful Hosana Kitenge score 3 times in the paint as Round and Daniel Ogoro connected from beyond the arc. Coupling that offensive prowess with an increased effort on defence meant Macedonia had no answer. England took the 2nd 16-4 and led by 17 at half time, 33-16.
Macedonia came out with significantly more fight to start the 2nd half, perhaps after some choice words from their coaching staff during the break. That fire was enough to keep the contest competitive for the first 5 minutes of the 3rd but as their efforts saw no reduction in the deficit, Macedonia started to cool off as the game got away from them. Jacob Round continued to be a force, disrupting passing lanes and generating turnovers as he grabbed his obligatory breakaway dunk for the game late in the quarter.
(Jacob Round flushes a dunk vs Hunary - FIBA Europe)
Up 52-27 to start the 4th, England ran their bench throughout the 4th but that offered no respite on the scoreboard. Theo Hughes, Robert Banks Jr and Pierce Maslen all grabbed their opportunity for playing time with both hands and put a weary Macedonia to the sword, pushing the lead above 30 as the final buzzer sounded.
Coach Keane knew the result wasn’t a fluke and that the hard work had started long before the players walked onto the court, "Game preparation at the Euros is everything. We scouted Macedonia to fine detail. Discovering trends, finding the threats and opportunities and the players executing with excellent once again. That put us in a position to lead throughout and build on that while rotating the entire squad during the game. Ok, we did what we planned to do. Job done, on to the next. It is time to start the clock for Russia now."
The mood in the camp amongst the players was understandably jubilant. Worthing Thunder's Hosana Kitenge had a dominant game around the rim and knew it was important to start fast, "Delivering the first blow is always important and that is what we did. We managed to maintain that tempo throughout, which was important. Final 8’s! Let’s go England!" Manchester Magic's Arinze Emeka-Anyakwo echoed that sentiment, "We made sure we imposed our aggressive style of play from the start of the game which crushed Macedonia's spirit."
(England huddle up as they get ready for play - FIBA Europe)
In terms of performance, application and results, Team Manager Pete Daines was struggling for comparison, "I've done this job for 5 years now and this is right up there as one of the best performances I've seen. It was great to see the players execute to such a high level. Also, watching the starters genuinely happy when the bench were scoring in the 4th was brilliant to see. That shows how much this squad cares about one another and how good they can potentially be."
England now takes on group A winners Russia at 11:45am Thursday. The Russians were an unbeaten 4-0 before crashing to a somewhat inexplicable 20 point loss to Portugal in their final group game. To see if that was a blip or a start of something more, you can follow that game on Live Stats by clicking here.