Sunday, 8 August 2010

Pops goes off as Britain steer past Macedonia

Former NBA forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu delivered 27 points and 9 rebounds as Great Britain remained unbeaten in their European Championship qualifiers with a 104-96 win over Macedonia in Newcastle.

However Chris Finch’s men were forced to hold their nerve, rallying from seven points down in the fourth quarter to force overtime before they saw off their most dangerous rivals in front of around far from capacity crowd at the venue that will be home to the Eagles next term.

It should have been much simpler after GB opened up a 15-point cushion in the first period but the visitors eased back into contention to trim the gap to 47-43 at half-time.

As in Hungary, Finch saw his players suffer from the third quarter blues and it almost proved fatal. The Macedonians maintained their push to eventually go 83-76 in front with three minutes of regulation play left but the hosts rallied back from the brink. After Mensah-Bonsu intentionally missed a free-throw, Dan Clark tipped the rebound out to Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng, who calmly stepped out and hit a three-pointer with 6 seconds left that forced an extra period at 87-87.

And after the lead changed hands four times, Mensah-Bonsu scored six points in quick succession to spark a decisive burst that killed off Macedonia for good with Finch again rewarded from another series of clutch performances from captain Andrew Sullivan and Nate Reinking.

"For most of the game, even when we were down, I felt we were controlling the game," said Finch. "We lost our discipline a bit on defence in the third quarter. There was some tiredness. We tried to change things. Our rhythm went down a bit. Sometimes, when you go 6 or 7 down, you feel you have no response but when we called time out, we felt we had a response. You have to make big plays and we were able to do that."

Deng added 23 points and 11 rebounds for GB, who visit Bosnia - who lost 74-70 in Hungary - on Wednesday but for once he was over-shadowed by his team-mate.

"I'm not here if Luol isn't the player he is," Mensah-Bonsu countered. "Most of my points came from the attention that he got and he is that good of a player to find me and make me look good. The coach's game plan was good coming in. Defensively we were told to just disrupt them and get them out of their offence. They got a lot of lay-ups but we were trying to run them off the three-point plays and force them to finish at the basket."

Hometown hero Sullivan continued his inspirational form in his new sixth man role with 17 points and some key defensive plays that included a stunning block in the closing seconds of regulation.

"He played his role to a tee," said Finch. "He's an energy guy, a high-level garbage guy. People think that's a derogatory term but you can't win without guys like him."

Naturalised American Ivica Dimcevski hit a game-high 30 points for the Macedonians.


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