Aggressive Raiders upset BBL top dogs in tense win
PLYMOUTH RAIDERS...86 LEICESTER RIDERS...82
MARJON Plymouth Raiders rediscovered a mean streak to bully BBL Championship leaders Leicester Riders into submission yesterday.
An 86-82 loss was only Riders' second in the league and knocked them off the top of the standings.
On the other side of the coin, it will hopefully help Raiders put behind an indifferent home run of 2-4 in their previous six contests at the Pavilions.
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Gone, yesterday, was the uncertainty of that spell replaced by aggression and gone was the panic, replaced by anger.
"We've been frustrated with how it's been going for us, so we banded together and got that anger out of our system," said Raiders centre Matt Schneck, who led coach Gavin Love's team with 19 points and 14 rebounds. "That's huge for us."
Raiders boss Love said: "I've been trying to get through to players to play with consistency and play together. That's what we did tonight."
Riders guard Zaire Taylor – who led the visitors with 29 points – hit a three over Raiders defender Drew Lasker from the right wing and then added a pair of free-throws to cut Raiders' lead to 83-82 with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Love called a time-out.
Riders came out of it and intelligently fouled Schneck, one of Raiders' worst free-throw shooters, hitting only 55 per cent from the foul line prior to yesterday, with 23 seconds left on the clock.
Schneck had to at least maintain that percentage and put Raiders back up by two with Riders still effectively having a full possession to tie it and force overtime.
Schneck, who finished 9/12 from the foul line, drilled both to deafening cheers from a full house at the Pavilions and leave Riders needing a three to tie it.
Taylor lost his head and let his personal duels with Raiders guards Lasker and Michael Ojo become personal.
Taylor suddenly forgot he had four team-mates out on the floor supporting him and blindly attacked a bunch of Raiders defenders protecting the basket.
His panicked effort was crowded out and Schneck split 1/2 free-throws with 13 seconds remaining to fatally put Riders down by four.
It was a sight for sore Raiders eyes to see the opposition lose their heads in a pressure-cooker situation, rather than one of their heroes.
Love said: "It all starts in practice. We'd had a good week last week and worked on a lot of things. It showed today. We played much better.
"Yes we had moments when we lost our way and we almost gave it to them at the end, but we've learnt our lessons and the best thing was the fans were into it big-time tonight and enjoyed it."
Love added: "Maybe we've let down the fans in the last couple of weeks, which disappoints me more than anything, because people come to see us perform.
"But tonight all our fans walk out here winners and feeling fantastic."
Schneck said: "I think we were long overdue one.
"The ball hasn't bounced our way sometimes this season, but today we banded together, stepped up in the fourth quarter and got a gutsy win.
"This is good for our confidence now."
Raiders really won it early in the fourth quarter. The teams were locked at 65-65 after 30 minutes.
Raiders opened the final frame with a 13-2 run, which built a 78-67 gap and ultimately proved enough.
Ojo sparked it with a three on the left wing after great hustle from Jeremy Bell, scrapping for the ball on the left baseline.
Bell missed a three from the left corner on Raiders' next possession over Riders defender Jorge Calvo, but, encapsulating the home team's mature and aggressive attitude yesterday, battled past Calvo to grab the loose rebound and score a two inside to make it 70-65.
Ojo, mismatched on defence against Riders forward Drew Sullivan, didn't care and forced the stop in the paint.
At the other end he then found Bell open at the top of the perimeter, and Bell buried his three to stretch the gap to eight, 73-65 and force Riders to call a time-out.
Sullivan scored inside to cut it to 73-67 before Schneck drove almost the full length of the floor and showed a decent turn of pace for a big-man, beating former team-mate Anthony Rowe to finish with his right-hand at Riders' rim and rebuild the lead to nine, 75-67.
Schneck added 1/2 free-throws and Lasker hit both his from the foul line to cap the run and make it 78-67.
Riders came right back with a 10-2 rally and cut the deficit to three, 80-77. Lasker converted a crucial and open jump-shot on the right baseline to stretch Raiders' lead back to five, 82-77.
"We've been threatening to have a big win for the last few weeks, but fallen short," said Love, whose team had let slip an 11-point lead at home to defending champions Newcastle Eagles in a bitter, 73-70 loss seven days earlier.
"But we held our nerve and guys like Matt Schneck hit clutch free-throws at the end. Everybody played well."
Schneck said: "It's a long season, but to go into Christmas on a bit of a roll is big.
"We're all intelligent enough players and experienced enough to know the importance of those possessions in the fourth quarter. It was good to see us implement that."
Riders back-up centre Barry Lamble stroked home a short jump-shot on the right baseline to put Riders 55-53 in the third quarter when the visitors were threatening to get on top after a first half which belonged largely to Raiders.
Riders guard Jay Couisnard then beat his man at the top of the arc and prepared to dunk on a wide-open Raiders basket.
Raiders' last defender Liam Potter thought briefly about switching across to contest the shot before realising he couldn't get there.
Couisnard's dunk rattled in and back out and Bell punished the fatal error by drilling a three from the right wing on Raiders' next possession and put Raiders 56-55 up for good.
Raiders' swarming defence was now suffocating and aggressively crowded Riders out. It fuelled Raiders' counter-attack and Bell cashed in, burying another three from the left arc to make it 59-55.
Another stop and another Raiders fast-break, finished emphatically by Ojo with a slam-dunk. Cue electric cheers and another Riders time-out.
Raiders led by six again and had led by as many as seven, 33-26 before half-time.
Raiders held the lead for more than 33 minutes yesterday and only trailed Riders by two at any point.
Lasker inspired Raiders' 8-0 run in the second quarter which made it 33-26.
He hit a big three from deep on the right wing to make it 28-26.
Riders forward Pavol Losonsky attacked a wide-open Raiders basket on the counter and went up to finish with his left-hand.
Out of nowhere, Lasker frantically backtracked and spectacularly blocked Losonsky's effort in an early Christmas gift to the BBL season-highlight reel.
Scorers: Raiders: Schneck 19 points (5/14 field-goals), Bell 17 (5/19), Ojo 12 (4/11), Lasker 12 (2/3), Barnett 10 (4/9), Potter 9 (4/5), O'Reilly 7 (2/7); Leicester: Taylor 29 (11/18), Sullivan 17 (6/13), Rowe 15 (6/9)
Leading rebounder: Raiders: Schneck 14; Leicester: Sullivan 10
Leader in assists: Raiders: Bell 5; Leicester: Couisnard 4
Field-Goal Percentage: Raiders: 37 per cent (26/71 attempts); Leicester: 46 per cent (31/67)
Three-Point Percentage: Raiders: 56 per cent (9/16 attempts); Leicester: 24 per cent (4/17)
Free-Throw Percentage: Raiders: 81 per cent (25/31 attempts); Leicester: 64 per cent (16/25)
Total rebounds: Raiders 45 Leicester 38
Offensive rebounds: Raiders 18 Leicester 11
Turnovers: Raiders 9 Leicester 9
Fast-break points: Raiders 8 Leicester 6
Biggest lead: Raiders 11 Leicester 2
Points in the paint: Raiders 32 Leicester 44
Points off the bench: Raiders 21 Leicester 6
BBL Championship: Glasgow 109 Mersey 72, London 71 Newcastle 94, Cheshire 80 Sheffield 79