Plymouth Raiders shock defending BBL champs Newcastle Eagles in huge victory
Newcastle Eagles...71 Plymouth Raiders...76
MARJON Plymouth Raiders hung on for a massive, five-point win in Newcastle and in the same breath might have handed Leicester Riders this season's BBL Championship.
Raiders' win improves their record to 17-8 and sees them leap right up to third in the standings behind top two, defending champions Eagles and champions-elect Riders, who Gavin Love's team visit on Sunday (4pm).
Raiders, playing their first game in three long weeks, raced to a stunning, 21-point, 35-14 lead early in the second quarter on Tyneside.
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But never count Eagles out and they gradually whittled the gap right down to three, 69-66 by the middle of the tense fourth.
Raiders centre Andreas Schreiber then came up huge and might have come of age in green with 2/2 free-throws to rebuild the gap to five, 71-66. He then scored again to make it 73-68 and hold Eagles off.
Eagles guard Joe Chapman could have tied it all up at 74-74 with 33 seconds left, but he missed his three-point attempt.
Raiders guard Drew Lasker grabbed the decisive rebound and Eagles then were forced to foul, sending Raiders rookie Javarris Barnett to the foul line.
He hit 1/2 with 21 seconds left to make it 75-71, but missed his second, which team-mate Jamal Williams grabbed.
Eagles immediately fouled him and sent Williams to the foul line. He added 1/2 free-throws to seal the win.
Raiders boss Love started Lasker and Michael Ojo in his backcourt behind Colin O'Reilly, Matt Schneck and Schreiber up front.
Forwards Williams and Barnett started on the bench in a seven-man rotation.
The score was tied at 8-8 early in the first quarter before Raiders blew Eagles – on a rare, three-game losing streak at home – out with a killer
21-3 tear, which built a dominant 29-11 gap late in the frame.
Schneck sparked it with a basket and had four of the points before, in a balanced and selfless effort, Schreiber weighed in with six points, Ojo had four and Lasker scored seven points.
Ojo scored again at the start of the second quarter to push the gap to 21, 35-14. It was threatening, sensationally, to be a rout.
Eagles then at least regrouped and started to return punches and cut the gap slightly to 18, 48-30 at half-time.
Schreiber was leading Raiders at the break with 14 points inside on
7/9 shooting supported well by nine points apiece from Lasker, Ojo and Schneck.
Schneck and Lasker were also sharing 18 rebounds, and helping Eagles shoot a shocking 20 per cent (9/45) from the field in the opening 20 minutes.
Raiders had hit 53 per cent (20/38) from the floor.
Eagles finally – and almost inevitably – got going early in the third quarter, piecing together a 13-2 rally to slash the deficit to nine points, 52-43.
Their backcourt combination of Chapman and Damon Huffman scored nine of the points.
The gap was suddenly down to as few as seven, 55-48 on a three from Eagles' back-up point-guard and former Raider Anthony Martin with less than four minutes left in the third.
Raiders kept their heads, regrouped and responded to rebuild the lead to 15 points, 63-48 late in the frame.
Schneck sparked the 8-0 run with a two inside before Barnett scored back-to-back and then Schreiber added 2/2 free-throws.
It was then Eagles' turn to seize the momentum to keep a now see-saw encounter alive with a big 18-6 run, which cut the gap to only three, 69-66 in the middle of the fourth.
Chapman fuelled the early stages of the streak with two threes before forward Charles Smith capped it with a three.
Raiders now immediately turn their attention to Sunday's trip to leaders Riders.
Love said of Riders, who also visit Surrey Heat on Saturday night (7pm): "The experience Andrew Sullivan brings to Leicester is massive.
"Obviously Anthony Rowe is doing a good job for them and then they have a lot of other players contributing.
"Early in the season they won some close games. They've just kept going ever since."
Raiders and Heat are the only teams to have inflicted league defeats on 21-2 Riders this season.