Ireland 62 Norway 73
If home court familiarity with the rings confers a 10-point advantage, Ireland made poor use of their build-in edge as they fell to defeat in the opening game of the European Small Nations Championships in Cork last night.
Even more frustratingly Mark Scannell’s side had overcome a nervy start to put themselves in a winning position with a 10-point lead early in the second half but they could only muster 17 points thereafter as Norway rallied behind a big scoring performance from their Swedish-based ace, Tina Moen (30 pts).
The Scandinavians outscored Ireland 40-21 in the second half.
34-year-old Grainne Dwyer (12 pts), who was typically combative throughout, will be fuming with herself for some of those misses, but she wasn’t alone. Backed by a capacity Mardyke crowd, Ireland lost their poise in the third quarter as Norway ate into their 45-35 lead.
“We lost momentum because we went away from what we were doing in the first half,” maintained Spain-based Fiona O’Dwyer, who finished with 17 points and pulled down nine rebounds. “I don’t think we were as intense in the second half. That gave Norway that bit of momentum and they took that.
The lights went out on us on offence a bit and when that happened we started to scramble and stopped doing what we had done in the first half.” Scannell described the reverse as a “huge disappointment”, and he knows any margin for error is gone now as they try to turn things around for this evening’s clash with Luxembourg. “We’ve got an unbelievably tough 24 hours ahead,” he said. Though Ireland limited Moen to two second quarter points with some excellent defence, she upped the ante again after the break.
“Tina is an excellent shooter and she leads by example,” Norway coach Gunnar Nesboe explained. “She’s a winner and I don’t want to say that’s what we expect of her, but we are not surprised.”
Clearly Ireland were. Scannell admitted: “We we worried about Norway because we knew so little about them but they are a really good side.”
Whatever gaps there might have been in Ireland’s pre-tournament capacity to scout the Norwegians, it didn’t take Scannell’s coaching team long to figure they came to compete. An absence from international basketball for the past six years might have explained the difficulty in getting an accurate fix on on Nesboe’s squad but no-one embodied their readiness more than guard Moen who finished with a game high 30 points.
“We knew they would make a big difference down the stretch.”
The second quarter saw Ireland hit their stride and making some big defensive players – from an Edel Thornton turnover that yielded a Sarah Woods jumper to determined rebounding by Fiona O’Dwyer and admirable resilience from Grainne Dwyer. Indeed the veteran drove the Irish revival at both ends of the floor and finished the half with eight points. Sarah Woods nailed a huge three — stepping back outside the arc to make the play — with less than a minute left in Q1. It was a critical score and reeled Norway into a 25-22 lead. The DCU Mercy captain made her second three to tie up up at 25, and when Dwyer drove for two more, Ireland led for the first time, 27-25 with 8.05 remaining in the first half.
The graft at the other end of the court was the cornerstone to steadying the ship, with Amy Waters, Dwyer and especially Spanish-based O’Dwyer frustrating the Norwegians.
Sorcha Tiernan, who at 18, was facing another massive examination of her poise following the Leaving Cert chipped in with a drive as Norway turned the ball over cheaply on three occasions. Waters, Danielle O’Leary, and a three from Grainne Dwyer completed a gutsy turnaround for Scannell’s girls as they headed to the locker rooms 41-33 ahead.
When Edel Thornton opened her account at the beginning of the second half, and MVP Fiona O’Dwyer bagged two more to make it a 45-35 game, the hosts seemed to have taken a decisive hold on proceedings. How wrong. Norway would proceed to outshoot their hosts 25-10 in Q3 to take a seven point lead into the last (58-51).
The frustration only grew For Ireland. What will frustrate the players and the coaching staff is how cold Ireland’s shooting got when the heat came on.
Whatever words were said in the Irish camp last night, three will resonate: Must Do Better.
Norway top scorers: Tina Moen (30), Stina Austgulen (16), Katrine Fjarestad (7)
Ireland top scorers: Sarah Woods (18), Fiona O’Dwyer (17), Grainne Dwyer (12), Claire Rockall (7)