Luol Deng and Pops Mensah-Bonsu combined for 50 points as Great Britain took the honours in a pulsating 104-96 overtime success against FYR of Macedonia to spark a real party atmosphere in Newcastle.
|Luol Deng was the leader Great Britain needed when it counted and carried the Brits to an important home win|
It was certainly a fitting first contest for the unveiling of a brand new 32 million euro facility in the city although FYR of Macedonia will still be left wondering how this one got away after leading 83-76 with only a couple of minutes remaining.
Great Britain were really on the ropes and looking like a spent force at that point but the high flying Mensah-Bonsu and NBA star Deng pulled their side through.
With just a handful of seconds left in regulation, Mensah-Bonsu deliberately missed a second free-throw and much to the delight of the home fans, the ball made its way to Deng via a critical tip by Dan Clark and the Chicago man duly delivered with a three-pointer from the wing.
Led by Bo McCalebb who eventually finished with 30 points, FYR of Macedonia had the opportunity to take the win but failed to execute when it really mattered.
With the influential Pero Antic fouled out, the momentum inevitably swung the way of the hosts in overtime and rather aptly, local favourite Andrew Sullivan got a tip-in on the final buzzer to really round things off nicely for the Brits.
Mensah-Bonsu harvested 27 points and 11 rebounds and was awarded MVP status although that was maybe harsh on Deng who recorded 23 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. Sullivan also impressed and only missed out on a double-double by one rebound.
In addition to McCalebb, it was the all round shooting performance of 17 point Dimitar Mirakovski that impressed for the visitors who will definitely be looking forward to the reverse fixture in Skopje later in the month.
Great Britain Head Coach Chris Finch:
"Basketball is a game of runs and I liked our start, we were more energetic in the third. It was a hard game for our guys to play. They didn't know what they could guard and what they couldn't. I was bored during the first half of that game so our guys did a good job of staying focused. We have got to be better in the third but we were really good in the fourth and overtime and that's what mattered most tonight.
"I've liked the rhythm of our schedule from the very start. We've had a fantastic second camp if you will up here in Newcastle, we've got a lot of work done. Luol was much more integrated in our offence than he was the other day and that's just normal and that was important to us. The extra time to prepare for Macedonia helped too and that was a big game for us. When you're in a group of five its home, away, home, away but we have got to make sure we take advantage and protect our home turf in group play, that's vital.
"Coaching is a reflection of what your players are doing in basketball and obviously you have to instill belief in the time outs. I didn't think we had lost the plot we just needed to calm down and get a little bit more re-centred. All credit to our guys we had fantastic senior leadership. The guys made big shots, Nate Reinking made big shots, Luol made big shots and everybody out there made a big play and feeds to each other. When you're on a team that has a winning spirit you tend not to lose confidence in those moments even if you don't win the game."
Great Britain Power Forward Pops Mensah Bonsu:
"Most of my points came from the attention that Luol got, he's that good of a player to find me and make me look good. Coache's (Chris Finch) game plan was good coming in, defensively we were told to disrupt them and try and get them out of their offence. We wanted to run them off the three because they shoot a lot of three pointers so we had to make sure we forced them to finish off the basket.
"I want to say thank you to all the fans. I didn't know what to expect as it was my first time playing in Newcastle but the turn out was amazing, especially when they picked it up in the second half they helped us and gave us more adrenaline and gave us that little push we needed at the end.
"Macedonia won two great games earlier on and they were in the driving seat coming here and we knew that this was probably going to be a really tough game. They have a lot of experience and some really great players, we knew it was going to be a battle so this is one of the biggest victories I've ever had. I'm glad our players were able to tough it out and I'm definitely excited about this and looking forward to what the future holds."
Macedonia Coach Marin Dokuzovski:
"In the middle of the game we had control of the game and then every minute we played better and better. But we lost the game and in Basketball it's like that, but every time we don't win we get better."
Macedonia Guard Bo McCalebb:
"It doesn't matter how I played, all I care about is winning and we lost the game so the way I played doesn't even matter. Luol is a good player, he's going to get his points no matter who's playing against him. We tried to do other things, we kind of slowed him down in the beginning but in the end he made some tough shots."