Ireland have won the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries, after a 97-66 victory over Malta.
It completes the double for head coach Mark Keenan, who won the 1994 Promotions Cup as Ireland captain, also at the National Basketball Arena. Ireland’s assistant coach Adrian Fulton was also in that 1994 winning team.
John Carroll and Jordan Blount were the Ireland’s top scorers on the night, with 20 and 17 points respectively. Their consistent performances throughout the week saw them included in the tournament All-Star team too.
It took Ireland two minutes to register their first points, a Carroll jump shot. The first quarter was played at a frantic pace after that, Sean Flood’s three point jump shot bringing the game level at 8-8. A Ciaran Roe three-point jump shot in the final minute of the quarter made it 23-15, before one of Malta’s leading lights, Tevin Falzon, reduced arrears by two with a layup.
Ireland opened the second quarter with a Will Hanley a three point jump shot within 15 seconds, but Malta responded with eight unanswered points to make it a one point game, 26-25 — Ireland were being given their sternest test so far in the tournament.
Malta’s scoring run was ended by a lovely three point jump shot from Flood, who picked up 12 points by half-time. Will Hanley was also catching the eye, with seven points, two rebounds and one assist by the break, as Ireland led 51-32.
The momentum was with Ireland, midway through the third quarter a three point jump shot from the corner by CJ Fulton had Ireland 66-38 up. Malta narrowed that gap, with Alec Felice Pace getting eight points in the quarter, while the Falzon brothers, Tevin and Aaron, continued to pose a threat, however Ireland held a 73-54 advantage going into the final quarter.
Ireland kept their composure in the fourth quarter, Carroll’s dunk just under two and a half minutes in was greeted with raucous cheers from the Irish bench, Ireland’s lead was now 21 points, 79-58. Neil Randolph finished off the game in style with a three point jump shot in the closing seconds as Ireland rounded out a 97-66 win.
Ireland head coach Mark Keenan said: “Unreal, absolutely delighted. We pulled off another great performance this evening, I know it was a little bit dodgy in the second half, but we got that comfortable lead. A bit of a slow start for both teams, but we got on top and we got a great second quarter to push it out at half-time. The guys are superb, I think they’re all MVP’s there. They all sacrificed minutes for the good of the team and that is how we won the tournament, hats off. The rest of my staff, absolutely super.”
Asked about winning the tournament as a coach and player Keenan added: “It’s unreal. It would have been lovely to have two thousand fans here to cheer on, but it doesn’t take away what an absolute achievement and I think this team now needs to move on now. I think we’ve showed, Basketball Ireland, we need to be at the next level.”
Quarter score — Q1: 23-17, Q2: 28-15, Q3: 22-22, Q4: 24-12
Ireland: CJ Fulton (5), Ciaran Roe (5), Kyle Hosford (2), Sean Flood (16), Lorcan Murphy (10), Neil Randolph (3), Adrian O’Sullivan (7), Jordan Blount (17), Eoin Quigley (1), Will Hanley (7), John Carroll (20), Jason Killeen (4).
Malta: Jack Zammit (6), David Bugeja (DNP), Alec Felice Pace (10), Peter Shoults (5), Matthew Scerri (0), Nathan Xuereb (6), Tevin Falzon (17), Ian Felice Pace (10), Aaron Falzon (13), Kurt-Joseph Xuereb (9), Kurt Cassar (DNP), Phillip Engelbert (0).