Raiders fail to push Eagles close in sobering home loss
MARJON Plymouth Raiders were reminded yesterday how far they have to go if they want to seriously challenge in this season's BBL play-offs in April.
They fell heavily by 17 points, 96-79 to defending champions Newcastle Eagles at the Pavilions.
Raiders slip to 15-8 in fourth spot in the BBL Championship as a result, but remain only a game back from Glasgow Rocks, who are 16-8 and third.
Raiders have never finished higher than third at the end of the regular season.
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If they are to legitimately contend in the play-offs they have a lot of ground to make up.
Eagles outworked and then outclassed Raiders yesterday, and led dominantly by as many as 22 points, 89-67 in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Raiders slashed the deficit to 12, 91-79 with a 12-2 rally, but the impact on the final scoreline was purely cosmetic.
Raiders centre Matt Schneck put it simply afterwards and said: "The difference right now between us and a top team is 17 points.
"We just have to continue to work on trying to close that gap. Hopefully we can, but that's where we are right now."
Raiders coach Gavin Love said: "It was disappointing. We dropped off our level on offence for three or four minutes and we weren't in the game at the end."
Raiders were only down by five points, 55-50 early in the third before a 7-0 Eagles run suddenly ballooned the gap to 12, 62-50.
The writing was always on the wall then.
Eagles guard Joe Chapman sparked the streak with a big three from deep on the left wing over Raiders guard Michael Ojo's despairing hand.
Eagles guard and former Raider Anthony Martin then exploded, spinning inside and scored.
Centre Darius Defoe added an easy bucket inside to cap the swift but decisive spell.
Martin came off Eagles' bench, but when he did Raiders didn't have anyone quick enough or smart enough to contain him and he finished with 18 points on 8/11 shooting in 32 influential minutes.
Martin only left the Pavilions last summer, but the 32-year-old reminded everyone what a terrific talent he is when he's in full flight with the ball in his hot hands.
The closer Raiders got afterwards was within eight points on an Ojo jump-shot from the left baseline, which made it 69-61 late in the third.
Schneck said: "Newcastle are a very good team. We shut off for a two or three minute spell and you just can't do that against a team like that.
"They took advantage. They're tough. It was difficult for us. A difficult loss."
Love, whose team were emphatically outrebounded 52-34, said: "In the second half Newcastle stepped up their defence, but, crikey, I don't know how many times they were allowed to illegally box-out.
"But Newcastle did outmuscle us. They killed us on rebounds. We just didn't have guys who boxed-out."
Schneck said: "It was tough for us trying to rebound tonight. Sometimes that's just the way the ball bounces."
Eagles led by 10, 77-67 early in the fourth when they killed the contest with a 12-0 run and all Raiders' problems on defence came to the fore.
Eagles forward Charles Smith dominated his match-up with Raiders' Colin O'Reilly and hit a jump-shot over him from near the foul line to make it 79-67.
Chapman then buried another effortless three over Ojo from the right wing; Defoe scored too easily inside; and Martin attacked Raiders' basket at will to make it 86-67.
It was a rout, if you're being honest – not utterly, but Eagles were in complete command.
Eagles intelligently deprived Raiders' offence of their chief three-point threat, 6ft 5in Ojo, putting the imposing, 6ft 8in frame of big-man Kareem Maddox in his face.
Ojo finished 0/3 from outside while collectively Raiders shot 1/16 from deep.
Love said: "We didn't shoot the ball very well at all from the three-point line.
"If you don't make shots against a team like Newcastle, you're going to struggle."
Love added: "I think we had opportunities to make shots from outside, but we either didn't take them or we missed."
Raiders were coming off a gutsy, 91-89 win over Surrey Heat on Saturday night and led yesterday 28-23 early in the second.
Eagles then took the lead for good with a 10-0 run which made it 33-28. Smith and Martin were warming up now and scored all of the points.
Schneck, looking forward to the final seven weeks of the regular season, said: "It was a great win for us on Saturday night and we had a great 20 minutes tonight.
"Hopefully, we can take those 60 minutes out of 80 we played well in forward."
Scorers: Raiders: Schneck 24 points (11/18 field-goals), Ojo 16 (6/15), Schreiber 16 (8/13), Barnett 8 (3/8), Williams 6 (3/7), Brown 4 (2/5), Lasker 3 (1/5), O'Reilly 2 (1/4); Newcastle: Smith 26 (9/22), Maddox 20 (6/13), Martin 18 (8/11)
Leading rebounder: Raiders: Schreiber 7; Newcastle: Maddox 14
Leader in assists: Raiders: Brown 5; Newcastle: Chapman 4
Field-Goal Percentage: Raiders: 47 per cent (35/75 attempts); Newcastle: 44 per cent (36/81)
Three-Point Percentage: Raiders: 6 per cent (1/16 attempts); Newcastle: 21 per cent (3/14)
Free-Throw Percentage: Raiders: 80 per cent (8/10 attempts); Newcastle: 84 per cent (21/25)
Total rebounds: Raiders 34 Newcastle 52
Offensive rebounds: Raiders 9 Newcastle 20
Turnovers: Raiders 14 Newcastle 14
Fast-break points: Raiders 10 Newcastle 10
Biggest lead: Raiders 6 Newcastle 22
Points in the paint: Raiders 50 Newcastle 38
Points off the bench: Raiders 13 Newcastle 20
BBL Championship: Newcastle 92 Cheshire 94, Sheffield 95 Manchester 87, Worcester 119 Mersey 64, Worcester 98 London 91 (double overtime), Leicester 84 Manchester 59, Durham 73 Glasgow 99, Cheshire 60 Leicester 69