Malta’s 67-59 win was their third in the last five tournaments, but they had to come from behind against an Irish side who produced a stunning first half of basketball.
“We had them at half-time,” said a disappointed head coach, Mark Scannell. “We were doing all the things we were really good at and we just came out flat for the second-half.”
Five three-pointers in the first quarter had Ireland leading 27-19. The triples came from Áine McKenna, Sarah Woods, Michelle Clarke, and a brace from Danielle O’Leary, and though Malta were starting to match up well, the lead was pushed out to 39-29 at the break.
But Malta stormed out on the restart to draw level withing six minutes and they led 51-50 entering the final quarter.
“It was a bit of a struggle trying to get that momentum going again in the final quarter,” said Scannell.
“They never gave up but stuff didn’t fall that had been falling for us all week and their professional players made some big shots when the game was on the line.
“I’m very proud. It’s been some effort this week. We’ll learn a lot from it and Ireland will come back stronger. It just wasn’t our day.”
Ireland’s men missed out on a bronze medal on their return to European action, losing 60-53 to San Marino in Chisinau.
It was the third time in tournament history that an Irish side had lost to a team they had beaten in group stages Ireland were having a poor day from the three-point line with just two successes from 26 attempts, making it all the harder to reel in a deficit heading down the stretch.
Jordan Blount pulled off some explosive moves to help forge a 21-15 lead midway through the second period. The University of Illinois at Chicago recruit completed his double-double in 16 minutes as Ireland led 29-21 at half time.
San Marino took over with back-to-back threes and pulled off a spectacular alley-oop to swing momentum firmly in their favour. The Irish challenge ultimately faded as they failed to score in the last 3:45 of the game.
2016 FIBA Men’s European Championships For Small Countries Bronze Medal Match:
Ireland 53-60 San Marino Chisinau, Moldova Ireland: Kyle Hosford*(6), Kevin Lacey*, Jordan Blount* (16), Ciaran O’Sullivan*, Brian Fitzpatrick*(16), Adrian O’Sullivan, Paul Dick (4), Lorcan Murphy (1), Stephen James (3), Keelan Cairns (7), Colin O’Reilly, Conor Gallagher.
FIBA Women’s European Championships For Small Countries Final:
Ireland 59-67 San Marino Gibraltar Ireland: Aine McKenna* (9), Sarah Woods* (7), Claire Rockall* (14), Grainne Dwyer* (11), Aoife McDermott* (2), Michelle Clarke (6), Casey Grace, Amy Waters (4), Danielle O’Leary (6), Sinead Deegan, Aine O’Connor.