Raiders are outgunned by awesome Eagles in BBL Cup
RELENTLESS wet weather and Newcastle Eagles combined to make it a seamlessly miserable weekend for Marjon Plymouth Raiders fans.
Raiders fans couldn't get a break.
It rained all day Saturday and it was raining when they left the Pavilions late yesterday afternoon.
In between it was raining Eagles three-pointers in the BBL Cup semi-final first leg.
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Eagles battered Raiders by 33 points, 51-18 after converting an eye-watering 17/30 three-pointers.
Eagles led by as many 23 points, 98-75 in the fourth quarter before prevailing by 17, 107-90 ahead of this Friday's decisive second leg on Tyneside.
Raiders still have a chance. They're 4-1 and playing well on the road this season.
But it will take something special, like Eagles produced yesterday, to now make January's showpiece at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.
Raiders boss Gavin Love said: "People might say, 'Oh, they got beat', but I was pleased with how we played.
"Our offence was good. We scored 90 points against the best defence in the league and, believe it or not, I thought our defence was pretty good.
"Yes, Newcastle had a few open looks, but most shots they had were contested. Newcastle just got hot, super hot."
Eagles took control of yesterday's first leg late in the first half with a 13-1 run, which snapped a 43-43 tie and made it 56-44 at the start of the third quarter.
Eagles forward Charles Smith – who destroyed Raiders with 39 points in last season's BBL Cup final – was at it again and hit three threes on the spin to choreograph the streak.
Smith – who finished 6/10 from deep yesterday – drilled his first when he was wide open on the left wing to make it 48-43.
He hit another in transition from the right and buried a third with the last score of the half from the left.
Smith was 5/6 from the three-point arc at half-time and Eagles overall were 7/11.
Eagles couldn't continue shooting the ball so well from deep, could they?
Of course they could.
Eagles guards Damon Huffman and Joe Chapman hit 5/9 and 4/9 threes respectively in support of Smith, and even point-guard and former Raider Anthony Martin – who always struggled shooting the ball from outside – added 2/2 threes. It wasn't Raiders' day.
Love said of Eagles: "When you hit 17/30 threes, normally you'd beat a team by 40 points.
"Yes, we've got to go up there now and turn it around by 17 points, but it can be done."
Raiders centre Matt Schneck said: "I don't know if Newcastle were too good, but Charles Smith had an incredible night shooting the ball.
"Seventeen points is a large margin, but we still have another chance on Friday. We'll see what we can do."
Raiders rookie Javarris Barnett, having his eyes opened to the level of title-winning basketball in the professional ranks, said: "It was a great shooting performance by Newcastle.
"I've never seen a team shoot the ball like that."
Huffman scored a two inside to put Eagles back up by 10, 64-54 in the middle of the third before an extraordinary 11 minutes all but eliminated Raiders from this season's BBL Cup.
Eagles exclusively scored threes from the field until forward Kareem Maddox's basket inside, with 4:00 remaining in the fourth, pushed Eagles' lead to 23 points, 98-75.
Eagles outscored Raiders 32-20 during the spectacular passage of play when Love's team were simply outgunned and outclassed.
Yes, Raiders could have kept their cool better and not tried to rush their offence in a bid to quickly cut the deficit.
But, in my opinion, Eagles were just too good yesterday.
Love said: "We took a few ill-advised shots in the fourth quarter – because we're maybe not used to playing two legged basketball – trying to get back in it."
Schneck said: "We lost our energy a bit in the second half. We got it back towards the end, but we should have finished the game better."
Barnett said: "I didn't think our defence was that bad. They were good shots for Newcastle.
"They were able to penetrate against us and then kick the ball back out.
"We have to go back to the drawing board this week and see how we can stop them penetrating.
"If we can clamp down on their three-point shooters on Friday, we've got a chance."
Chapman triggered Eagles' awesome run of threes with a huge one from deep behind the top of the arc to make it 67-54.
Schneck and Smith traded 2/2 free-throws before Smith stroked home a three from the right wing and, losing his class a little, goaded Raiders fans by waving his arms high up in the air, mocking them along the touchline.
Some supporters, naturally, reacted angrily to the open insult.
It was not the first time Smith did it yesterday.
He did it late in the second quarter after hitting the second of two threes during Eagles' crucial 13-1 run which gained control of the contest for good.
I didn't like it, but I guess it's Raiders versus Eagles. It's never overly friendly and I do like that feistiness about the rivalry.
Raiders guard Michael Ojo barreled into Huffman once near the halfway line in the first half.
Huffman hauled himself back to his feet and, annoyed and perplexed, looked at Ojo as if to say, 'What did you do that for?'
Ojo looked back at his opponent blankly as if to say, 'Why not?'
Huffman hit another big three from the left wing to make it 75-60 late in the third quarter.
Smith drilled 3/3 free-throws at the start of the fourth after Raiders forward Colin O'Reilly fouled him attempting a three from the left wing.
Next, it was Huffman's turn again and he buried back-to-back threes, the second on Martin's assist to make it an 18-point game and 84-66.
It depressingly was a rout. More depressingly, it wasn't over.
Martin hit a three from the right; Huffman stroked another home from the top of the arc; Chapman buried one with Raiders forward Jamal Williams right in his face on the right wing; and Chapman made another from the top of the perimeter, again with Williams all over him to make it 96-74 and cap the extraordinary run.
Huffman was averaging 11.2 points per game prior to yesterday, but finished with a game-high 29.
Love said of Eagles' offensive performance: "We expected it of Chapman and Smith, but Huffman was the difference. He has not played like that the whole season, but had his best game tonight."
Eagles' five starters – Huffman, Chapman, Smith, Maddox and centre Darius Defoe – all finished in double-digits yesterday and combined, contributed 101 points.
Raiders, despite boasting a deeper eight-man squad than Eagles' essentially six-man rotation, simply did not have enough quality firepower in return.
Raiders again relied upon their four key scorers this season – Jeremy Bell, Ojo, O'Reilly and Schneck – who together scored 76 points.
It wasn't enough.
Scorers: Raiders: Bell 29 points (11/21 field-goals), O'Reilly 18 (7/10), Schneck 18 (8/13), Ojo 11 (2/12), Barnett 6 (2/10), Williams 4 (1/3), Potter 2 (1/1), Lasker 2 (1/2); Newcastle: Huffman 29 (12/19), Smith 29 (8/15), Maddox 16 (7/9)
Leading rebounder: Raiders: Schneck 8; Newcastle: Defoe 8
Leader in assists: Raiders: Bell/Barnett 4; Newcastle: Chapman 8
Field-Goal Percentage: Raiders: 46 per cent (33/72 attempts); Newcastle: 57 per cent (39/69)
Three-Point Percentage: Raiders: 38 per cent (6/16 attempts); Newcastle: 57 per cent (17/30)
Free-Throw Percentage: Raiders: 72 per cent (18/25 attempts); Newcastle: 75 per cent (12/16)
Total rebounds: Raiders 33 Newcastle 38
Offensive rebounds: Raiders 9 Newcastle 9
Turnovers: Raiders 8 Newcastle 16
Fast-break points: Raiders 18 Newcastle 10
Biggest lead: Raiders 6 Newcastle 23
Points in the paint: Raiders 36 Newcastle 28
Points off the bench: Raiders 8 Newcastle 6
Scores: BBL Championship: Worcester 71 Sheffield 68, Leicester 91 Durham 68, London 86 Mersey 60, Cheshire 106 Durham 72