Ireland 86 Kosovo 72
IRELAND have booked their spot in the final of the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries on Sunday, after beating Kosovo in a tight semi-final battle.
The game, played in Nicosia, Cyprus, had Ireland trailing for three-quarters of contest after a strong opening quarter from Kosovo, which saw them lead 26-18. Ireland edged their way back into the semi-final, outscoring their opponents in each of the remaining quarters and a strong final quarter saw them pull clear by the time the end buzzer sounded.
The teams were evenly matched in many respects, with Ireland’s field goal percentage of 40% (30/74) standing similar to Kosovo’s 42% (27/65). The teams also succeeded in making the same number of defensive rebounds, at 28 apiece. Ireland excelled in offensive rebounds, notching 16 to Kosovo’s nine. However, Kosovo impressed on free-throws, converting 100% of their 12 attempts, compared to Ireland’s 75% (15/20).
Kosovo took an early lead in the first quarter, owing to the quick defensive rebounds and counter-attacking play employed by them. Alexis Renee Tolefree proved crucial for Kosovo in this quarter, with three steals. It was their top-scorer Saranda Daci who led the scoring early, scoring eight points this quarter (two jump shots, two free throws and a layup.
Scores from Dayna Finn, Gráinne Dwyer and Fiona Dywer, as well as free throws from Edel Thornton and Hannah Thornton kept Ireland in the game.
The tit-for-tat flow of the game continued in the second quarter, with rebounds aplenty. A good steal from Rachel Huijsdens resulted in an important 3-pointer from Claire Melia after Melia herself had managed a couple of steals prior to the play. Although Ireland fared better in the second quarter, Kosovo did extend their lead to 11 points at one point during these 10 minutes.
Ireland narrowed the gap further in the third quarter, drawing within one point of Kosovo, trailing 54-55 going into the final quarter. This was owed in large part to the offensive efforts of Fiona O’Dwyer, as she scored seven points this quarter, and assisted Sorcha Tiernan on a 3-pointer.
Tiernan and Dwyer then took it up a notch in the last quarter, with some serious shooting and support play, making three three-point shots apiece, assisting each other on one shot each.
Dayna Finn also excelled in this quarter, making a pair of free throws, a three-pointer and two assists. Kosovo struggled to keep up with Ireland at this stage, as Ireland returned to the form shown in their group games, making seven defensive rebounds.
Although Ireland spent the majority of the game playing catch-up, the final score reflected their resilience and stamina across the court.
Ireland will now face either Luxembourg or Malta, who contest the second semi-final, in the final of the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries. The final takes on Sunday at 5pm.