The Belgian Lions sold their skin very dearly, but had to recognize their superior in top country Slovenia. Our compatriots kept pace for a long time, the fatigue of the Belgians and the individual class of NBA star Luka Doncic made the difference: 88-72. “I don’t think we deserved to lose by such a wide margin, there was more to it,” said a disappointed Jean-Marc Mwema afterwards.
A few weeks after the World Cup qualifier against Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Belgian Lions were again allowed to meet a superstar from the NBA: Luka Doncic in the 1/8th finals of the European Championship.
The 23-year-old clapper of the Dallas Mavericks immediately gave his calling card in the opening minutes, with 3 three-pointers without a miss. The start of Belgium was timid, but gradually the Lions also found their way.
With their characteristic collective basketball, the Belgians set their foot next to Slovenia, the defending champion at this European Championship, in an excellent 1st half. Gillet was the star, but the rest of the team also played excellently and so there was still hope for a new Belgian stunt at halftime (44-41).
That was further fueled in an equally strong 3rd quarter, in which Doncic (35 points) started to make his mark more and more.
With a few Belgian three-pointers, the difference remained minimal and in the beginning of the final quarter Belgium even took the lead after a hook throw from Tumba.
Then the Slovenians had had enough and with the help of the many free throws (23/25 for Slovenia against 7/8 for Belgium), Doncic and co put in a deadly 17-0 intermediate sprint.
Belgium eventually lost 88-72, a difference that does the Lions somewhat dishonor, after a great match in which they were the equal of the reigning European champions for over half an hour.
Nevertheless, the Belgians can leave this tournament with their heads held high. “We have shown that we are not a small basketball country,” national coach Dario Gjergja said after the stunt against Spain. That was confirmed once again today and offers hope for the near future of the Belgian Lions, who have as their next goal a 1st qualification for the World Cup.
Belgium: Lecomte 16, Gillet 15, Tabu 9, Mwema 7, De Zeeuw 6, Libert 6, Vanwijn 6, Obasohan 3, Bako 2, Tabu 2, Bleijenbergh and Bratanovic 0
National coach Gjergja: “Equality does not exist in basketball”
National coach Dario Gjergja waved praise for his players afterwards. “I am very proud of this group. They deserve much better”, said the Croatian coach of the Belgians.
“Today we competed for 32 minutes and we even took the lead in the 4th quarter. Then two mistakes from us were punished on the other side and there was suddenly a gap of 5 points.”
That was expanded in no time, also thanks to the many Slovenian free throws. Somewhat cryptically, Dario Gjergja seemed to lash out at the referees at the press conference.
“I’ve heard a lot about equality in recent weeks, but equality doesn’t exist in basketball. Can I clarify that a bit? I think you know very well what I mean,” Gjergja told reporters present.
“I do want to remember the good things about this European Championship. Now we have to see how we can continue to develop further. We have to continue to develop young people and prepare them to play at a high level. That is necessary, otherwise we will sink.”
The next assignment for the Belgian Lions is the preliminary round of the World Cup, but that will happen without strong holders Ismael Bako and Retin Obasohan. They will start next year in the EuroLeague and those clubs do not give up players for the international matches. “That will hurt us a lot, just like the fact that we can no longer count on Sam Van Rossom,” said the national coach.
Mwema: “There was more to it”
- Retin Obasohan: “It was a game with 2 faces. In the 1st half we were able to put our foot next to Slovenia, even though they scored smoothly. In the 4th quarter we were unable to maintain our defensive discipline. That cost us the match .”
“I am proud of the team and of the staff and of what we have shown in recent weeks. We have to learn from this and look forward again. This gives a lot of confidence for the future. We have a lot of talent, both in the team and youth that is coming.”
- Jean-Marc the Good: “I think we are better than the final score suggests. I had the feeling that we were at 2 . for the whole match possesions difference and that we could do something at the end, but the shot really didn’t want to fall.”
“The moment we released, we also missed a lot of rebounds and that hurt us a lot. From there we lost a little bit.”
“I don’t think we deserve to lose by almost 20 points here, although that’s no shame against such a team. But I think there was more to it, because I don’t feel that we are outclassed. I feel like we could really do something today.”
- Maxime De Zeeuw: “I’m here with mixed feelings. I’m very proud of the team, but I’m also disappointed. We fought for 35 minutes. Then it doesn’t work anymore, I don’t know why. That’s a shame. We have to learn from this.”
“It does not surprise me that we are still playing so well in this 6th match. We have a fantastic team and a very good team chemistry. The atmosphere in the team is very good.”
“I have to let this sink in for a while. It is still too early to take stock of this European Championship, but I am very proud of this team. Our next goal is to go to the World Cup.”
Jean-Marc Mwema: “There was more to it”
De Zeeuw: “Stand here with mixed feelings”