But in Saturday's earlier Group A game at the Heraklion Arena, GB's qualification was confirmed when Latvia beat Britain's main rivals Hungary 84-67. The British players were present, watching as Head Coach Douglas Leichner allowed them to embrace their passage into the next phase, something no GB under-20 team has done in the past.
With qualification therefore assured - as well as a place at Division-A level next summer - and Friday night's exhilarating win over hosts Greece behind them, it would have been easy for Great Britain to start off slowly. But with the same starting five - Alex Young, Luke Nelson, Elliott Sentance, Ben Lawson and Grant Mackay - they began with purpose and freedom, Young draining a 3 for the first points of the game.
The theme of this contest was clear very early on. This was close, competitive basketball, with neither team able to establish a lead for long. GB's 18-10 advantage after 5:20 of the first quarter was handy but three minutes later, it was virtually wiped out.
What must have been encouraging to Coach Leichner and his assistants was the way that not just the growing stars, Nelson and Young, scored but the way the work was shared around. Sentance and GB captain Rowell Graham were highly visible. But the presence inside of Lawson, Mackay as well as Kavell Bigby-Williams ensured a physical Lithuania team got as good as it gave out. GB led after the first, 20-18.
Encouragingly, Great Britain got the early blows of the second quarter in first. When Nelson netted for 3 with 3:54 remaining GB held a nine point advantage - what would be the biggest of the night. Only five points from Lithuania forward Marius Grigonis in the dying seconds of the half got the Group A leaders back close, GB 35-32 in front.
But Lithuania's depth in talent began to show itself in the third quarter when eight points in the first four minutes of the second half put them 41-40 up. GB's inability to concede defeat was self-evident as the lead changed hands 15 times in the third quarter alone - basketball's equivalent of a slugfest. GB had the more effective punches, with Young's 3 with 46 seconds left before the buzzer, taking him to 18 personal points and GB to a 55-53 advantage.
Like any good team, Lithuania saved their best for last though. While GB were scoring in the paint at the start of the final quarter, Lithuania were scoring big threes - three of them to put them 62-61 clear with 6:26 remaining. One of them came from forward Tomas Dimsa and he would take the momentum in Lithuania's direction with 3 further baskets from beyond the arc.
But thanks to GB's indefatigability, it took until the final 3:56 minutes before the 6'5 forward could move Lithuania five points clear. After heroic work throughout, Lawson fouled out soon after (eight points, eight rebounds) and despite GB getting to within one point on one occasion, Lithuania's confidence in the clutch prevailed to take the game, 81-73 and the top place in Group A. Great Britain finish 2nd ahead of seasoned basketball nations - Greece, Latvia and Hungary.
While Dimas finished on a game-high 20 points, Alex Young was close behind with 19 points, shooting 50% with five assists, Luke Nelson netted 12 points with six assists but notable in their success were Bigby-Williams (11 points, 11 rebounds) and Sentance (11 points, 7 rebounds).
Full game statistics can be found here.
Nothing though could dim the pride of Coach Leichner when he spoke to gbbasketball.com, after the game, who ensured the players could watch Latvia beat Hungary to ensure their passage to the second round.
"We watched it in the hotel, on the bus and then in the arena. Especially in this day and age where you can watch anything anytime, why not embrace it? That's what I want these guys to do. Why hide from it? We're well aware of what it means for basketball in the UK, for us to reach the second round. But this is exciting and we're competing - and occasionally winning - against the basketball powerhouses of Europe. "
As for their defeat to Lithuania, Coach Leichner felt they came so close to another outstanding triumph. "I feel the scouting report that James Vear and Andreas Kapoulas put together, was dead on. The players executed it superbly for 37 minutes and hats off to Lithuania who pulled off some difficult shots and showed the talent they have in the last three minutes. But they took the win, we didn't give it to them. "
Great Britain now move into the second phase where the qualifiers from Group A and Group B will face the teams from the other group. All teams carry forward the points they accrued in the first round against fellow qualifiers.
Joining Lithuania, GB and hosts Greece, are Group B winners Serbia, Slovenia and Spain. Four teams from this group of six will progress to the quarter-finals. GB currently lie in 4th position and take on third-placed Slovenia on Monday. 24 hours later, they face Group B winners Serbia while taking on 2013 bronze medallists Spain on Wednesday evening.
The current second round table can be found below.
|Mon 14th July||Slovenia v GREAT BRITAIN||1500|
|Greece v Serbia||1715|
|Spain v Lithuania||1930|
|Tue 15th July||GREAT BRITAIN v Serbia||1715|
|Spain v Greece||1715|
|Lithuania v Slovenia||1930|
|Wed 16th July||GREAT BRITAIN v Spain||1500|
|Slovenia v Greece||1715|
|Serbia v Lithuania||1715|