Ireland U18 men produced a combative display before falling to a strong Estonian team 82-64 in their FIBA European Championship opener.
Paul Kelleher’s side played well in patches without ever really hitting top gear and will rue a 17-6 run between the last two minutes of the third quarter and the opening three minutes of the fourth, which ended any realistic hope of a fightback. Ultimately it was a failure to create that cost the Irish. Estonia managed to put up 17 more shots in the game. All eyes turn to a crucial meeting with Iceland on Sunday morning, in a bid to get back on track.
Estonia came bolting from the traps in the first quarter, starting with an 11-3 run and putting the Irish on the back foot early in the piece. However, by the end of the opening stanza, Ireland reduced that gap to the minimum on the back of four Tony Ezeonu free-throws, a Ryan Fitzpatrick layup and an excellent Ruairi Cronin floater from inside the arc.
Ireland prior to their FIBA U18 Men's European Championship Group game with Estonia.
Greg Marinkovic-Augustine nailed a free-throw in the first 90-seconds of the second and it appeared as if Ireland had found their range and were right back in the contest. But that was as close as they got to their highly touted opponents. Estonia’s ability to hit successive three-point shots under severe pressure from Ireland’s perimeter defense was exceptional. Each time Ireland clawed their way back to within a couple of shots, the Estonian shooters found the ice in their veins to re-establish a solid lead.
Aspects of Ireland’s performance will please Paul Kelleher. They got to the line 21 times in the game, shooting 66%. Three players managed to get into double digits and the spread of scorers was a positive. Ireland also kept the pressure on defensively, even when the game appeared to get away from them. However, they will need to up their shooting from 2-point land going forward, managing only 13/42 (30.95%) in this game. That is not going to get it done at this level. Captain Ruairi Cronin played a leader’s role. The Limerick Celtics man nabbed a team high 12-points, 7-rebounds and 4-assists in the game. The green shoots are there for success going forward, Ireland just need to raise their heads and start faster come Sunday morning.
Ruairi Cronin 12pts, James Cotter 11pts, Aivaras Uosis 10 pts.
Ireland 64-82 Estonia
Ireland v Iceland, Sunday, July 31st - 11:30am