United has returned from Pecs, Hungary with bronze medals from the U20 EYBL Play off tournament. Our Londoners were placed in a group with two other Hungarian Academies, Szolnoki Sportcentrum and Nyiregyhaza Blue Sharks.
In the first half of the game against Szolnoki neither of the teams could reach an advantage higher than 5 points. United which excessively relied on the inside presence of Tomas Butrimas had constant problems with the Hungarians perfectly executing pick and rolls and shooting very well from the 3 point range. Already trailing by 5 points, United started the third quarter in the worst possible fashion recklessly turning the ball over and allowing Szolnoki to build a double digit advantage. In the first minutes of the last stanza, United was trailing by as much as 19 points seemingly unable to change the course of the game. The change came in the form of full court press defence which almost immediately started to pay dividends. A series of quick steals by Elias Poorman, Kevin Szczawinski and Afra Khalil allowed United to reduce the deficit to 8 points and find new energy. United’s situation has further improved when Szolnoki, previously almost perfect from long range had surprising difficulties with combating United’s zone. With 2 minutes remaining United had taken the lead and despite a couple of simple mistakes managed to secure a very narrow 89-87 victory.
The second game against Blue Sharks followed a very similar scenario. A very methodical Hungarian team was exploring quite easily United’s defensive deficiencies. Yet again United was trailing by double digits in the second half unable to stop Blue Sharks from scoring from outside. United troubles were compounded when influential Elias Poorman injured his foot and despite of extensive treatment his production was seriously affected to the very end of the tournament. When United once again went to their trusted weapon-full court press they were able to eradicate the deficit and briefly take a 2 points lead. Unfortunately, their Cinderella story was abruptly cut short when Butrimas fouled out and our young Londoners lost both momentum and ability to score from the paint. In the last couple minutes Blue Sharks sunk several 3 pointers allowing them to secure a 80-72 win.
The defeat against Blue Sharks pushed United to the second place in their group and on a collision course with NBA Academy Africa in the semi-final game.
The game against NBA Academy Africa proved to be a rather one sided affair. After a relatively competitive first half, United was unable to match the athleticism of the African team ending on the wrong side of a 78-47 result.
The consolation final against Rimini Basket was yet another very closely contested affair. Tomas Butrimas dominated both boards but this time found a very effective partner in crime in a very fast and accurate Mohamed Adan (20 ppg and 4 assists). With the game evenly poised with 60 seconds left on the clock, Afra Khalil perfectly connected two consecutive 3 pointers allowing United to secure a 87-81 victory and 3rd place in Central European division.
Our EYBL campaign continues this weekend (29-31 March) with our U14 team travelling to Italy to take their place in the playoff competition.