Bristol Flyers 95 – 79 Plymouth Raiders

Plymouth Raiders suffered a disappointing defeat in Bristol on Friday night following a first half collapse in what was a contrasting performance to their convincing victory against Surrey six days ago.

Offensively the team were static and failed to find a decent shot, whilst on the defensive end they were always chasing the ball as Bristol swung it around the three point line to find the open man either from behind the arc or inside for an easy basket.

The referees set the tone very early, calling fouls on both teams for minor collisions whilst they allowed more physical play off the ball. Even when the Raiders prevented Bristol scoring a three pointer, a foul was called sending them to the charity stripe for three. The calls were even against both sides so that didn’t have an impact on the display Raiders were leaving on the court. Bristol scored the first basket of the game whilst being fouled to allow a three-point play with 1:11 gone on the clock and never surrendered that lead for the whole game. Josh Wilcher scored Raiders first four points of the game and before Joonas Järveläinen made a free throw in the sixth minute, the home side had put 11 points on the board. Bristol closed out the period with a 14 – 8 run giving them a 25 – 13 lead after 10 minutes.

Bristol remained in front by 12 points with 6:45 remaining in the half until a 9 – 0 run put them ahead 41 – 20. Järveläinen halted the run but a technical foul immediately called on Donte Nicholas saw the Flyers score from the free throw line and retain possession. That started a run of 13 points for the home side in comparison to nine from the visitors with a minute still to play but neither sides could add to their score, and the Flyers held a commanding 24 point lead half way through the game.

There must have been some stern words from Coach PJ because the second half saw the Raiders find their offensive form. Wilcher and Devontavius Payne found the basket from long range, whist Wilcher, Nicholas and Rashaad Hassan all scored from the free throw line in the opening five minutes of the third period. Unfortunately, at the defensive end nothing had changed. Bristol found their way to the basket making it look easy, allowing them to match the Raiders scoring and even push in front stretching the lead to 29 at its peak. Raiders took advantage of the home side being in foul trouble, driving to the basket and either making a lay-up, or being fouled in the process and converting from the free throw line. The deficit was reduced to 19 following a technical foul against Bristol’s Lewis Champion, which saw him leave the game as it was his second, and despite Raiders winning the quarter 27 – 26, the home side still led 79 – 56 with 10 minutes to play.

A 7 – 1 burst in the first couple of minutes reduced the gap to 17 and gave the visitors a slight hope that the game wasn’t out of reach yet but that soon disappeared as they were held scoreless for the next 150 seconds. This allowed Bristol to nudge further in front with the score at 85 – 63 with a little under six minutes remaining. Raiders reduced the gap to 17 on a couple occasions but you could see the frustrations in the players faces and with less than two minutes remaining that boiled over, with Jawad Adekoya and Bristol’s Panos Mayindombe both receiving technical fouls after squaring up to each other, and as Mayindombe had received an unsportsmanlike foul earlier in the game, he had to join Champion in the locker room. As the final seconds ticked down, Raiders looked deflated whilst Bristol celebrated and perhaps unsportingly, the two players who had to leave the game were on the court with their team whilst time still remaining on the clock. A final score of 95 – 79 showed a closer game then it was considering the 16 point gap was the closest Raiders were since mid-way through the second period. That win for the Flyers over the Raiders was their second in four games where the two sides have met this season, but more importantly gave them the head to head in the league with one game still to play at the Pavilions in April.

There were very few individual highlights for the Raiders. Nicholas finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists whilst Wilcher led the team in scoring with 16. Bristol had two players scoring 20 points or more, whilst four others scored in double figures.

Raiders return home to the Pavilions next Sunday (17th), where they will face BBL Trophy Finalists London Lions, 15:00 tip. Raiders will hope they can get back to winning ways and have a repeat of the 95 – 88 victory over the Lions they achieved back in September, one of only two defeats the Lions have had this season. Tickets for the game can be bought online from https://www.theticketstore.co.uk.

Paul Smith