Raiders start to cure last campaign's ills in stylish win over Dublin Thunder
Plymouth Raiders…103 Dublin Thunder…64
MARJON Plymouth Raiders are starting to shape up for the new BBL campaign nicely.
"We were better than we were on Wednesday," said Raiders boss Gavin Love, referring to his team's opening pre-season contest. "In the first half we played good defence and our offence is starting to click. We blew them out."
Raiders comfortably and stylishly dismantled Dublin Thunder by 39 points, 103-64 at a happy Pavilions on Saturday night.
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They threatened to completely destroy them when they led by 27, 46-19 in the middle of the second quarter before taking their foot off the gas until early in the fourth.
A 12-0 run pushed the gap to 37 points, 89-52 before Love emptied Raiders' bench for the final five minutes and finished with Jay Marriott, Academy prospects Jordan Blount and, making his debut, Tristan Hall, Jamie Burchell and trialist Liam Potter on the floor.
I loved it. Blount, such is the regard Love holds him in, got longer and came on with 6:12 left on the clock.
Blount buried a big three from behind the top of the perimeter to make it 96-56 before Raiders' lead peaked at 41 points, 101-60 on a quality turnaround jump-shot from Burchell on the left baseline.
Blount is only 15 but he could be a star. The only thing that scared him was when a referee, quicker to track him back than Thunder's defence, caught him head down, unawares and made him jump when he dashed close by him on the left wing.
"When Jordan steps on court you can see he's ready. He's not timid at all," said Love of the precocious shooting-guard from Cork.
Raiders' starting shooting-guard Michael Ojo hit a game-high 22 points and, after a hugely encouraging rookie year at the Pavilions, has returned refreshed and re-energised after the summer.
Ojo shot 8/15 from the field and is noticeably more aggressive on offence in 2012/13, putting the ball on the floor and attacking the basket, forcing defences to buckle or put him on the free-throw line, where he converted 90 per cent last season.
"Coach has emphasised that he wants to be more aggressive and attack the basket more," said Ojo. "That's really engrained on my mind.
"I'm not just settling to shoot threes, even though I know I shoot that so well. That fact opens up so many other things for my game."
Raiders point-guard Jeremy Bell, too, hasn't missed a beat over the summer and finished with 16 points and six assists. It was also nice to see him bury 2/3 three-pointers beautifully, not his forté in 2011/12.
Bell hit one on the right wing during Raiders' opening 23-5 tear, which set the tone for Saturday evening at the start of the first frame.
Small-forward Colin O'Reilly sparked it with a three from the right before adding 3/3 free-throws after being fouled shooting another three in the left corner to make it 6-0.
Bell found O'Reilly open again in the left corner to make it 14-3 before Ojo weighed in with his first three of the night on the left wing to make it 19-5.
Raiders finished 10/23 (43 per cent) from the three-point arc and certainly looked more deadly where they floundered at vital times last season.
Centre Matt Schneck converted a nice give and go with Bell on the right elbow to make it 38-16 and help kick-start a 12-3 Raiders run early in the second.
Schneck scored again in transition on former Cheshire Jets' team-mate O'Reilly's assist to make it 40-16 and then showed – dare I tempt the basketball gods – Raiders finally have a big-man who can shoot free-throws by adding a couple and finishing 4/4 from the foul line.
Raiders shot 15/16 (94 per cent) from the free-throw stripe overall, again showcasing how Love may have cured an ill that cost them a crucial league game at home to champions Newcastle Eagles last season.
Schneck reminded us what a good acquisition he is on Saturday, while the day O'Reilly got in touch with Love this summer and said he wanted to come to play in Plymouth was a good day.
O'Reilly is such an understated character and performer it is easy to overlook just how big a player he can be for Raiders this season.
He finished with 19 points, a game-high 14 rebounds and game-high eight assists against Thunder.
He pulled down five offensive rebounds on Saturday, not by leaping higher than everyone else but by thinking more quickly than everyone else.
O'Reilly underlines the point in the basketball player's manual that the first step is in your head not on the floor.
When you consider O'Reilly also drilled 4/7 three-pointers, you start to get a sense of how immense he can be in green in 2012/13.
I also like the fact his expression or body language hardly changes whether he hits or misses from the perimeter. It's simply on to the next possession.
"Colin is a very, very good player," said Ojo. "He's not the most athletic guy in the world but he definitely compensates for that with his mind and in the mental side of the game."
Love said: "Colin's so smart. He's playing really well."
Points: Ojo 22 (8/15 Field-Goals), O'Reilly 19 (6/11), Schneck 18 (7/11), Bell 16 (6/17), Potter 10 (5/8), Lasker 8 (4/7), Blount 3 (1/5), Marriott 3 (1/2), Burchell 2 (1/3)
Rebounds: O'Reilly 14, Potter 9, Barnett 8
Assists: O'Reilly 8, Bell 6, Ojo 3