The U18 Men are yet to get off the mark with a win at the European Championships Division B in Skopje, Macedonia. Coach Steve Bucknall's side are currently 5th in Group D after 3 games and promotion to Division A is now unattainable. Losses to Ukraine 65-74, Slovakia 48-59 and Georgia 70-76 on consecutive days have been tough on this roster who now have a day off to regroup before completing group play with games against Scotland and Albania.
England were optimistic heading into their opener against Ukraine after a successful warm up trip to Holland saw the team pick up 3 successive wins. That confidence couldn't be transferred into a winning performance though as the Eastern European side outscored England in 3 of the 4 quarters to take the victory. Luke Mitchell top scored for England with 17 and Carl Wheatle had 14 points and 16 rebounds.
(Carl Wheatle currently leads the tournament with 13 rebounds per game - FIBA Europe)
3 pointers from Mitchell and Micah Savery-Richards allowed England to keep pace with Ukraine in the 1st. England led 16-13 with a touch under 90 seconds left in the quarter but Ukraine scored the last 5 points of the period to edge ahead 18-16 after 1. Lancashire Spinner Zion Tordoff hit a 3 early in the 2nd quarter to put England up 21-20, but Ukraine started to impose their will on the contest after that, enjoying an 11-2 run that led them into the break up 32-42.
The 3rd was England's brightest quarter and a quick basket from Wheatle and a deep shot from Mitchell cut the deficit to 5. However, 37-42 quickly became 37-51 as Ukraine continued to find offensive success. It was then England's turn to hit a streak of their own and the quarter ended 46-53. Designs on cutting the lead came up short as Ukraine maintained their lead for most of the 4th before pulling away to a 9 point win.
Coach Bucknall was quick to acknowledge the gap between England's form coming in and their opening performance "I was disappointed that we weren’t able to execute some of the things we have been working on but the players understand the level required of them now and tomorrow’s game is key." There was a similar mood amongst the players who wanted to get out on the court and make amends 24 hours later against Slovakia. Small Forward Zion Tordoff said, "Ukraine are a tough team, they shoot well and we didn’t work hard enough on their drives to the basket. We’re looking forward to putting things right tomorrow."
The game against Slovakia would prove pivotal but it didn't go the way England planned as they lost 48-59. Another fixture plagued by Live Stats issues, information was sparse throughout. England were outscored 11-16 in both of the first 2 quarters, leaving them trailing 22-32 at the half. Shooting 29% from the floor in the contest didn't help England in the 2nd half as they tried to get back into the game. Derby's Brian Amabilino Perez top scored for England with 13 points, Luke Mitchell had 11 and Henri Langton put up 9. Coach Bucknall was quick to praise Amabilino Perez for his efforts, "Another tough game that showed our lack of preparation. Credit to Brian Amabilino Perez who fought himself back into the game for a strong second half."
(Brian Amabilino-Perez driving to the basket vs Slovakia - FIBA Europe)
Sunday night's mach up against 2 and 0 Georgia was crucial if England were to salvage anything from the group stages and progress to the upper tiers of the classification games. That urgency was reflected in the 1st quarter performance as England fired their way out to a 29-15 score line after 1. That lead was built on some hot scoring from Tordoff, Mitchell and Amabilino-Perez. The 2nd period didn't see the same explosive scoring from England but they kept Georgia at bay and maintained their lead. Nelson Boachie-Yiadom completed a double-double shortly before the half with 10 points and 10 rebounds which helped his side into a 44-32 lead after 2.
The game flipped 180 after the break and England has no answer for Georgia for the remainder of the contest. A 19-4 run saw the scores close rapidly and England's only answers were to amass a number of turnovers that continued to aid the comeback. The deficit then became a lead as Georgia finished the quarter as strongly as they had begun it, completing the 3rd up 52-56. England tried to right the ship in the 4th but the tide had turned. As quickly as they tried to claw points back, Georgia had an answer from beyond the perimeter. In the end Georgia grabbed a 70-76 win that looked incredibly unlikely at the half time break. Coach Bucknall knew the tone of the game and lamented his sides inability to adjust, "We started exactly the way we wanted to. We were aggressive and efficient. We knew Georgia would come at us in the 3rd quarter and we couldn’t respond.". Goga Bitadze did a lot of the damage for Georgia during their 2nd half comeback, finishing with 18 points, 15 rebounds and 5 blocks. After the game, Henri Langton was quick to pay credit to him, "It was a great match up for me playing against Bitadze. I enjoyed the battle, he was a tough player."
England now face 2 remaining games in Group D vs Scotland on Tuesday at 1:15pm, followed by Albania on Wednesday at 11:00am. The highest England can now finish in group play is 4th, meaning the highest placing they can achieve is 9th.