Raiders made to think again after opening defeat to Heat
MARJON Plymouth Raiders were convincingly upset by form team Surrey Heat 95-78 in the BBL Championship, leaving a packed Pavilions disappointed yesterday.
The win lifts Heat to 6-1 in the early season standings behind 7-0 leaders Leicester Riders, while Raiders suffer their first defeat and go 3-1.
Raiders had won their opening three contests at a canter in 2012/13, but Heat hustled hard on defence, harrying and stifling the previously number one ranked offence in the league.
Raiders had been averaging 104.3 points per game prior to yesterday on 58 per cent shooting from the field.
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But Heat held them to 78 points on 38 per cent shooting and held off a desperate late rally from coach Gavin Love's team.
Raiders boss Love was naturally frustrated but not devastated following the final buzzer.
His team were simply outplayed, in my opinion.
He can now get stuck into his players on the practice court this week and fine tune what went wrong.
Love said: "I don't want to go crazy over it. It is what it is. We lost to a solid Surrey team.
"We should've beaten them, but you're going to lose games. It's a long season. I'm not too despondent."
Raiders guard Michael Ojo, one of the club's stars in the opening weeks of the campaign, but held to eight points on 2/7 shooting yesterday, said: "It was frustrating but we're definitely going to learn from this.
"It's always good to lose games early rather than later in the season, especially against a good Surrey team."
Heat decisively took control of yesterday's contest at a noisy Pavilions in the middle of the third quarter with a big 18-2 run, which built a nine-point, 61-52 gap.
Raiders got within as few as six points, 80-74 late in the fourth on a tough jump-shot on the left baseline from point-guard Jeremy Bell over Heat's Albert Margai.
Raiders fans had never been louder this season at that point, creating a deafening din at the Pavilions to one, try and inspire their team and two, upset Heat's rhythm.
Heat were unmoved and more good ball movement finally found centre Frank Holmes open underneath the basket on the right baseline.
Bell tried desperately to close the door, but hopelessly overmatched against a man 9in bigger, he couldn't prevent him scoring to make it 82-74 and ignite a 10-0 Heat run which killed the contest.
Heat led by as many as 17 points, 95-78 at the very end, but it was never a rout. Heat were hanging on before half-time.
Love said: "The final score flattered them, but it was poor from us.
"Matt Schneck did a great job for us inside, but at the same time we're lacking a true post player.
"When you're not knocking down shots like we were, that's a problem."
Love added: "It's disappointing because we had such a great crowd in here tonight.
"We started the game well, but we faded from there.
"It comes back to contributions from guys – they're not good enough on a consistent basis."
Ojo said: "It was a combination of Surrey's good defence and the fact that offensively we didn't perform.
"We were just out of sync in my opinion, but we can work on that and hopefully iron these kinks out.
"You can only ride the highs so high and take the lows so low. We'll be alright."
Raiders threatened the impossible when they trailed by 15 points, 79-64 with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Guard Drew Lasker made 1/2 free-throws; Bell intercepted a loose inbound from Heat and former Raiders forward Sam Cricelli, who was otherwise excellent, to score at the rim; and forward Colin O'Reilly hit a huge three from deep behind the top of the perimeter to make it 79-70.
There were still three minutes left – cue a concerned Heat time-out.
Raiders centre Matt Schneck collected his fifth and final foul on Heat's next possession, and you started to then wonder if that was the beginning of the end for Love and his players.
Schneck finished with 16 points, on 7/11 shooting and 13 rebounds, easily eclipsing Raiders' three other big-men – power-forwards Javarris Barnett and Anthony Rowe, and centre Liam Potter – who combined had nine points, on a wasteful 3/17 shooting and nine rebounds.
I thought Potter did okay and made some plays at the start of the fourth quarter which threatened to ignite a Raiders rally.
But Love has an unenviable quandary at power-forward – does he stick or does he twist?
More pertinently perhaps, how patient is Love willing to be?
He has Rowe, who yesterday only made his second appearance in virtually six months after all that time out with a serious knee injury.
And he has rookie Barnett, who, on yesterday's evidence at least, is not up to it when the going gets tough at the offensive end in the BBL.
Barnett makes good plays at the defensive end, but in attack he finished 1/6 from the floor, had three turnovers and simply looked out his depth.
Raiders could ill afford to carry passengers in the heat of yesterday's dogfight at the Pavilions and there are much more ferocious ones to come against big guns Newcastle Eagles and Riders this season.
Harsh? Maybe, but I'm only being honest and let's be honest – Raiders are seriously trying to win something in 2012/13.
Second-best is not good enough and yesterday they were second-best.
I hope Barnett comes out firing in the next few weeks and proves me wrong, but yesterday wasn't the first time he has struggled badly in his rookie year out of university.
Heat's defence, averaging only 69.8 points per game against prior to yesterday, made Raiders' offence look limited offensively in the half-court.
Raiders' perimeter players were forced to misfire 4/21 (19 per cent) from the three-point line – they were hitting 36 per cent from deep before yesterday – or drive into the teeth of a packed Heat defence, where their big-men could aggressively protect the rim.
Raiders had led by as many as nine, 23-14 at the end of the first quarter and were still up by seven with 6:00 left in the third after a 13-6 home run sparked by back-to-back jump-shots from O'Reilly in the left corner – the first a long two, the second a three.
Heat had Raiders reeling with the contest's pivotal 18-2 tear, founded on eight and six points respectively from guards Martelle McLemore and Chavis Holmes.
Chavis Holmes was a thorn in Raiders' side all afternoon, driving to the rim with class but also ease at times.
When Heat only led 80-74 in the middle of a Raiders storm in the fourth, Love's players gambled and ganged up on Holmes out on the left wing, ultimately releasing Frank Holmes inside for the decisive score.
Scorers: Raiders: O'Reilly 20 points (8/12 field-goals), Bell 19 (9/26), Schneck 16 (7/11), Ojo 8 (2/7), Lasker 8 (3/11), Potter 3 (1/3), Barnett 2 (1/6), Rowe 2 (1/8): Surrey: McLemore 23 (8/16), F Holmes 20 (8/10), Cricelli 18 (8/14), C Holmes 17 (7/15)
Leading rebounder: Raiders: Schneck 13: Surrey: McLemore 11
Leader in assists: Raiders: Bell/Lasker 4: Surrey: C Holmes 10
Field-Goal Percentage: Raiders: 38 per cent (32/84 attempts); Surrey: 53 per cent (37/70)
Three-Point Percentage: Raiders: 19 per cent (4/21 attempts); Surrey: 0 per cent (0/10)
Free-Throw Percentage: Raiders: 59 per cent (10/17 attempts); Surrey: 68 per cent (21/31)
Total rebounds: Raiders 49 Surrey 43
Offensive rebounds: Raiders 24 Surrey 11
Turnovers: Raiders 14 Surrey 12
Fast-break points: Raiders 0 Surrey 0
Biggest lead: Raiders 9 Surrey 17
Points in the paint: Raiders 44 Surrey 62
Points off the bench: Raiders 13 Surrey 11
BBL Championship: Mersey 54 Worcester 86, Newcastle 63 Leicester 75, Leicester 79 Cheshire 75 (after overtime), Worcester 82 Sheffield 66, Cheshire 75 London 82, Durham 91 Mersey 71