Depleted Plymouth Raiders go down fighting at BBL leaders Leicester Riders
Leicester Riders...78 Plymouth Raiders...66
GAVIN LOVE is buoyant despite Marjon Plymouth Raiders' 12-point defeat at BBL Championship leaders Leicester Riders this afternoon.
Raiders' confidence was sky-high after returning from a frustrating three-week break in their schedule to upset defending champions Newcastle Eagles 76-71 on Tyneside on Friday.
However, the win cost them their top scorer Michael Ojo (twisted ankle), who sat out the contest in the East Midlands.
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That reduced Raiders to a core six-man rotation.
Still, Raiders led Riders by as many as five, 50-45 before a 15-2 home run made it 66-56 by the middle of the fourth and turned the tide for good.
Raiders boss Love, who was unhappy with a 24-14 foul count against his players, said: "In polite terms, some of the officiating today was questionable. It is what it is.
"The most important thing is our defence was fantastic.
"We were in the game no question and if some of the calls hadn't gone against us, it might have been a different story."
Love added: "We missed Michael's offence, but our defence was great, so I'm not disheartened. I'm happy. It's all positive from here."
Raiders now prepare in a busy week for Wednesday's trip to 11-15 Sheffield Sharks, who are on a charge and have won six of their last eight contests, including the BBL Trophy final, denying Riders a potential clean sweep of all four BBL titles this season.
Raiders will hope to have Ojo, but they will judge his injury day-to-day.
He may have to wait until Friday's home game at the Pavilions against woeful Mersey Tigers.
"The players know we've turned a corner," said Love. "We head into Wednesday's game with confidence.
"We just have to keep replicating this form. It's all about effort now."
The defeat dropped Raiders into a tie for fourth in the league with 17-9 Worcester Wolves.
Raiders trailed 13-5 in the first quarter before an 11-0 response built a 16-13 lead at John Sandford Sports Centre.
Colin O'Reilly, starting in Raiders' backcourt in Ojo's absence, scored back-to-back before forward and sixth-man Jamal Williams capped the streak with a three.
Riders immediately replied with a 17-1 tear building a 13-point, 30-17 gap early in the second before, in a see-saw opening half, Raiders hit back with a 15-5 run to slash the deficit to three, 35-32.
Guard Drew Lasker and rookie forward Javarris Barnett both hit threes late in the run.
Raiders trailed by seven, 41-34 late in the second before piecing together a 16-4 streak to lead 50-45 early in the third.
Williams sparked it with a basket before Barnett added fuel to the fire with another three and 2/2 free-throws.
Riders hit back and took the lead for good on a three late in the third from veteran back-up guard Yorick Williams, which made it 57-54.
Riders guard Jorge Calvo hit two threes early in the fourth to ensure the home team maintained the momentum.
Calvo's second on Yorick Williams' assist with 4:39 left on the clock stretched Riders' lead ominously to 10, 66-56.
Barnett replied with a three to cut the gap to five, 66-61 before Riders hit 10/10 free-throws and scored 10 of their last 12 points from the foul line to seal the win, which lifts them three wins clear of their only real title rivals Eagles, who dipped to 20-5 on Friday night.
Raiders centre Andreas Schreiber killed Eagles inside on Friday with a dominant and team-high 26 points.
However, he ran into foul trouble at Riders, summing up Love's feeling with the three officials.
"Andreas picked up fouls which were ridiculous," said Love. "On Friday he was unbelievable. Newcastle couldn't handle him."
Schreiber is arguably Raiders' best and most natural shot-blocker since Otis Polk in 2010/11, Love's first season in charge.
Love said: "Andreas allows our guards to gamble more on defence and put pressure on guys out on the perimeter. They know Andreas is behind them protecting the hoop."
Raiders crushed Eagles 33-14 in Friday's first quarter on Tyneside.
"We hadn't played for three weeks. We were ready," said Love.
"Everybody just dug in and that's infectious. I have seven guys now who all want to play defence. Offence takes care of itself."
Love added: "I'm so happy with how the guys performed this weekend, against two top teams.
"Our defence has improved vastly and our effort levels were spectacular. We were excellent.
"On Friday, our defence and our attention to detail was most impressive.
"We had worked really hard in practice last week and we had a perfect game-plan.
"The guys still have to execute it and our effort was fantastic.
"We were denying Newcastle looks at the basket, contesting shots and we outrebounded them. That comes down to effort."
Scorers: Raiders: Barnett 15 points (4/13 field-goals), Schneck 15 (6/10), O'Reilly 13 (6/14), Williams 12 (5/12), Schreiber 6 (3/10), Lasker 5 (1/6); Leicester: Couisnard 34 (9/17), Rowe 12 (5/11), Calvo 10 (2/7)
Leading rebounder: Raiders: Schneck 13; Leicester: Couisnard 10
Leader in assists: Raiders: Lasker 4; Leicester: Calvo 6
Field-Goal Percentage: Raiders: 38 per cent (25/66 attempts); Leicester: 37 per cent (23/62)
Three-Point Percentage: Raiders: 25 per cent (7/28 attempts); Leicester: 35 per cent (9/26)
Free-Throw Percentage: Raiders: 59 per cent (10/17 attempts); Leicester: 82 per cent (23/28)
Total rebounds: Raiders 43 Leicester 33
Offensive rebounds: Raiders 13 Leicester 10
Turnovers: Raiders 16 Leicester 12
Fast-break points: Raiders 4 Leicester 4
Biggest lead: Raiders 5 Leicester 13
Points in the paint: Raiders 26 Leicester 26
BBL Championship: Sheffield 79 London 63, Surrey 76 Leicester 79, Glasgow 83 Manchester 65, Cheshire 104 Surrey 100