Raiders overcome slow start to win well against Wolves
MARJON Plymouth Raiders started slowly but finished strongly to seal an important win in the BBL Championship at the Pavilions yesterday.
Raiders trailed Worcester Wolves by as many as 12 points in the first quarter before leading by as many as 22 at the final buzzer in a 34-point turnaround.
It wasn't pretty at times, but the victory vitally lifts Raiders clear in fourth spot in the standings, while fifth-placed Wolves slip to 7-7.
Raiders improve their record to 8-3 behind top two Leicester Riders and Newcastle Eagles, who yesterday went 12-1 and 10-1 respectively.
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Eagles and Riders pivotally are the next two visitors to the Pavilions this Sunday (December 9) and December 16 respectively.
First, Raiders visit 6-7 London Lions on Friday.
Raiders were, understandably, flat emotionally and physically in the opening minutes yesterday against Wolves.
Friday's epic BBL Cup semi-final exit at Eagles clearly had drained Raiders' players minds and legs.
Raiders guard Jeremy Bell, who had 17 points on 5/10 shooting yesterday, said: "We just had to get our legs back under us after a long trip to Newcastle.
"It took us a while to do that, but once we did, it was all good."
Rookie forward Javarris Barnett, who led Raiders with 24 points on 9/15 shooting, said: "We started slowly, but we knew we had 20 minutes to turn it around and give it all we had.
"We did that after half-time. It worked out for us."
Raiders did not take the lead until the middle of yesterday's third quarter when Barnett sweetly stroked home a three from the right wing to make it 42-41.
Raiders won it with a 19-5 run at the end of the third and in the first half of the final frame, which overturned a narrow 55-53 deficit and built a 72-60 gap.
Raiders, looking fresher than when they started the contest, finished well with an 11-0 run ballooning the lead to 22 at the final buzzer.
Raiders boss Gavin Love said: "The score is probably flattering in our favour, because it was a tight game. We started horrendously.
"Friday took it out of us, but we made a few changes at half-time and in the second half we turned it around.
"The energy was there and we started to play, but we have to learn we can't just turn it on when we want."
Barnett, coming on more and more after a slow start himself to life in professional basketball, said: "Once we started playing defence like we know we can and getting stops, the offence came more easily for us.
"Our defensive pressure bothered them and created easy opportunities for us on offence.
"When we're clicking on defence, we know we can score. That's the focus we need to have. Then, everything else will take care of itself."
Bell said: "If we play defence like we can, we're going to be a tough team to beat. That's what we have to focus on."
Love said: "I was happy with our attitude in the second half. We played hard and that's what you need to do, because we have talent.
"We managed the shot-clock really well on offence, which is something we haven't done well this season.
"We were composed and professional, and made good decisions. That's key. I was impressed with that."
Guard Michael Ojo, who played the main supporting role behind Barnett with 23 points, hit a three from the right wing to spark the afternoon's decisive 19-5 run and put Raiders 56-55 up heading into the fourth.
Ojo scored in transition on Bell's assist at the start of the fourth to make it 58-55.
Forward Colin O'Reilly, who had a rare off-day shooting 2/8 from the field, drove to the basket from the left baseline and converted at the rim while being fouled to push the score to 61-55 after adding the extra point from the foul line, where Wolves shot a shocking 9/16 at the other end of the floor.
Barnett added a basket in transition on another Bell feed before Barnett made the nice pass inside to centre Matt Schneck, who finished strongly to make it 65-58.
Barnett scored again on the counter, driving at the rim from the right wing; Ojo attacked the heart of the Wolves defence also from the right arc before pulling up and hitting a mid-range jump-shot; and Bell beautifully drained a three from the right after faking the pass to O'Reilly in the right corner and fooling Wolves defender Arnas Kazlauskas to cap the streak and make it 72-60.
Wolves, who caused problems with their size and outrebounded Raiders 30-21 before half-time, seemed to hit a brick wall mentally on offence when it mattered most.
Wolves led 12-0 in the first with six early points from 6ft 11in Lithuanian centre Arturas Masiulis, who had 3in on Schneck.
Raiders responded with an 8-0 rally to cut Wolves' lead to 14-10.
Raiders guard Drew Lasker was the trigger, driving aggressively at the rim from the left wing before centre Liam Potter capped the response with a hook shot inside.
Love called an early time-out when Wolves led 10-0 and successfully introduced Lasker and Potter off Raiders' bench in a bid to galvanise his team.
Wolves rebuilt their lead to eight points, 32-24 late in the second quarter before Raiders got right back in it with a second 11-4 rally, which made it a one-point game, 36-35 on 2/2 free-throws from Bell at the start of the third.
Wolves did not lead by more than four points the rest of the way.
Ojo ignited the run with a jump-shot on the right baseline, which made it 32-26.
Schneck added a basket after being found well inside by a driving O'Reilly and Ojo drilled a three from the top of the perimeter on another O'Reilly assist right on the buzzer to make it 36-33 going in at half-time.
That was as close as Raiders had been since trailing 2-0 at the very beginning.
Love said: "All these games are very important, because what you don't want is for it to turn into a two-horse title race this season.
"We want to stick around and stay involved. We're one of the teams who could take the title, but if we drop to four losses now, our chances decrease dramatically.
"The top teams have only dropped one game in the league. Four losses would put you a long way behind.
"It was important for us to get this one, with Worcester one spot below us and go 8-3. That's a good record."
Scorers: Raiders: Barnett 24 points (9/15 field-goals), Ojo 23 (8/16), Bell 17 (5/10), Schneck 12 (6/10), O'Reilly 5 (2/8), Potter 4 (2/6), Lasker 2 (1/5); Worcester: Masiulis 18 (8/16), Ocitti 16 (6/15), Kazlauskas 14 (4/8)
Leading rebounder: Raiders: Schneck 8; Worcester: Ocitti 14
Leader in assists: Raiders: Bell 5; Worcester: Masiulis/Kazlauskas 3
Field-Goal Percentage: Raiders: 46 per cent (33/72 attempts); Worcester: 36 per cent (25/70)
Three-Point Percentage: Raiders: 32 per cent (6/19 attempts); Worcester: 33 per cent (6/18)
Free-Throw Percentage: Raiders: 83 per cent (15/18 attempts); Worcester: 56 per cent (9/16)
Total rebounds: Raiders 42 Worcester 46
Offensive rebounds: Raiders 9 Worcester 16
Turnovers: Raiders 8 Worcester 16
Fast-break points: Raiders 8 Worcester 2
Biggest lead: Raiders 22 Worcester 12
Points in the paint: Raiders 36 Worcester 30
Points off the bench: Raiders 6 Worcester 4
BBL Championship: Surrey 83 Manchester 71, Cheshire 73 Newcastle 96, Durham 73 Sheffield 88, Glasgow 73 Leicester 85