After an opening day win over Ireland, the U16 Men followed up that performance with an important victory over Hungary on Friday before being handed their first loss on Saturday against Israel. The win against Hungary needed a period of over time to get things settled but Coach Keane's men came through as 66-61 victors. Israel proved too much 24 hours later though, taking that game 80-87 in a high scoring affair.
The win against Hungary started well as Kareem Queeley repeatedly caused problems with powerful drives to the basket and combined with strong team defence, England moved out to a 16-10 lead as Hungary were forced into an early time out. That short break didn’t halt the momentum though as Robert Banks Jr. came off the bench to hit a 3 and England led by 9 at the end of 1, up 21-12. The offence kept flowing throughout the 2nd as the team continued to attack. Frustration at both ends of the floor saw the Hungarian coach receive a technical as the lead moved into double digits. Richard Amaefule showed his range to hit a deep 3 and England sprinted off the floor as the half ended, up 17 at 39-22.
As expected, Hungary came out after the break strong and enjoyed a 9-2 run to narrow the gap. England responded with a run of their own, showing the resolve of this team. Hungary had the last laugh in the 3rd quarter though as they hit a pair of 3 pointers to leave the score at 47-40 going into the last. England's offence was beginning to look fragile, missing shots and struggling for good looks as Hungary tried to get back into the game. With a little over 3 minutes left, the score was 51-49 before eventually being tied up at 52-52. Jacob Round hit a clutch 3 to move England ahead with a minute to go but it would once again be Hungary who had the last word, scoring a layup with 2.6 seconds remaining in regulation to tie at 56. A Richard Amaefule alley-oop attempt missed as time expired and the game was going to OT. Hungary started brightly in the extra period and moved out to a 3 point lead early but Mate Okros hit consecutive 3s to put England up 64-61 with 1:35 left. Hungary tried to stage yet another come back but England wouldn't allow it, grabbing offensive boards on an incredible 4 straight possessions to control the clock and secure a 66-61 win after 2 Hosana Kitenge free throws.
(Okros top scored against Hungary in a great performance - FIBA Europe)
Mate Okros impressed with 15 points plus 4 assists and 4 steals, whilst Queeley and Amaefule both scored 13. Coach Keane was delighted with a close win and knocking off a difficult team in Hungary, "Every game at the Euros is a final and today's win was no different. Hungary are always a tough opponent. We left no stone unturned with our preparation and devised an effective game plan. Credit must go to all the players who brought the game plan to life and executed with excellence throughout. We did let a big lead get away from us, however to win in OT brings real growth and belief in the squad and this will serve us well moving forward."
That belief was tested the following day against an Israel team that was also undefeated after a 2-0 start of their own. The opening 5 minutes were tight as both teams tried to get the upper hand. The scores were tied at 12 mid way through the quarter before Israel tried to pull away. They were immediately pegged back by a 3 from Okros and 4 points from Daniel Ogoro including a layup on the buzzer which allowed England end the 1st up 23-19. The 2nd quarter started out with a 6-0 Israel run that saw Coach Keane call a time out to refocus his side. The team responded with a 3 from Pierce Maslan to stop the slide. The rest of the half was fairly even until Israel went on an 2-8 run in the final 2 minutes of the 2nd to leave England down by a point at the half, trailing 40-41.
The 3rd started well as England's repeated drives to the basket saw Israel in foul trouble quickly. Unfortunately the team couldn't capitalise as they repeatedly failed to take advantage from the free throw line, eventually going 5-12 from the charity stripe in the quarter. After a 3 point effort by Amaefule was chalked off as being after the shot clock had expired and with the team’s woes at the free throw line evident, England couldn’t establish a lead in the contest and the score was tied at 58 after 3.
(Captain Jacob Round in action vs Hungary - FIBA Europe)
Unfortunately free throws would come back to haunt England one again in the 4th and ultimately prove their undoing. This time though it was Israel's ability to convert from the line rather than England's misses. With the scores remaining close for most of the quarter, Israel consistently kept pace with England’s scoring by hitting their free throws, converting 14 of 15 throughout the 4th. Those numbers were inflated somewhat by intentional fouls at the end of the game, but 74-77, 77-81 and 80-83 were as close as England could get as Israel took literally every chance they were presented with to win by 7. Kareem Queeley top scored with 20 and Jacob Round had 16. Southwark's Richard Amaefule had an 11 point and 10 rebound double-double.
After the loss, Coach Keane was anything but downhearted, "This was a tough loss but we will learn from it and move on. We can improve and get better in each and every moment. Tournament basketball gives the players so much experience and they will use today's experience moving forward. Our game plan was right and the players fought. Israel shot the ball really well, especially at the free throw line in the 4th quarter."
After a rest day yesterday, England continue play in group B today as they take on Scotland at 6:30pm. Live Stats are available by clicking here.