The Plymouth Raiders poor season ended abruptly Sunday night, as the Sheffield Sharks snapped victory away from their hosts, winning 82-98, at Pavilions.
Although the Sharks squeaked their way into the last BBL championship playoff spot Friday, the squad still looked intent on putting the Raiders away, to build the sides form before next weekend’s first round of games.
Head coach Gavin Love, felt a sense of pride for his injury depleted squad, who kept the game close up till a poor fourth quarter. He said:
“I think the guys gave everything they had, I’m really proud of the team.
“In the fourth quarter we just ran out of steam, their big players stepped up and hit shots, so it was difficult for us to continue playing like we had.”
Love further reflected on what has been a year of hardship for his squad, saying:
“It’s been just a really tough season, with one thing after another, it’s just become a series of unfortunate events really that continued to get worse and worse.
“It was a very difficult year for sure, but those guys who stepped on court this evening did a fantastic job.”
“If we had say a couple more imports around the team we already have, we could be a fourth or fifth placed team, there’s no question.
“Not for one basketball game on the entire season did I look and say we are a balanced team, so it’s difficult, but we’re still here after all.”
Winning the tip was all but the highest point for the Raiders during the opening minutes of the game, as the side seemed sluggish early.
Whilst the Sharks found ways into the paint and hoop, the Raiders focused almost entirely on shooting three-point field goals, something that has been lacking for the side over the past month.
The accuracy continued to be a problem, and with the Raiders missing all six of their first attempts, they were soon trailing the sharks by eight points.
To shake his napping side into the game, Love began substituting the starters after four minutes. This seemed successful, as the Raiders first points found their mark, finally converting two with at least three players willing the ball in with fingertips around the rim.
Tre Bowman and Joonas Jarvelainen were next to enter the scoring, with a big three from the American and a bonus three from the Estonian, cutting the Sharks lead to three.
Showing athleticism, the Sharks were able to reply, though, matching the Raiders point for point through the first half, whilst maintaining a small lead.
The Raiders played high tempo defence in the first, but seemed to be a little over eager at times, over pursuing the Sharks and rushing some possessions.
Eddie Mathew took full advantage of his extended look at the court, and played with speed to score comfortably from the corners as well as the key, before finding himself second in team scoring by the half, at 11.
The second quarter continued with the Sharks holding onto the lead, whilst the Raiders played hard to catch up.
The looming presence of Raiders Captain Zak Wells, was a regular fixture on the paint, and he enjoyed success early, scoring 100% accuracy with 6 points, with five minutes to go before the half.
Zone defence kept the Sharks scoring opportunities frequent though, as the Raiders missed some blatantly open shooters, before they could get their release away and score from outside the arc.
Down by a substantial deficit, the Raiders would go off on an eight-point run in the second, to bring themselves one point away from the Sharks, but some empty possessions and a technical foul on Love – his second in two games, saw the Sharks maintain a two-point buffer.
By far the standout play of the game occurred in the dying seconds of the half as Jarvelainen swished an ore inspiring shot from beyond halfway, to beat the buzzer. The Raiders bench and crowd erupted with an energy unseen beforehand, setting the mood for what would be a thrilling third.
After an opening flurry of two’s, it was Sharks turn to begin a terrible period of accuracy, as five possessions in a row wound up wasted, to start the second half.
With the Sharks lull in scoring, finally, the Raiders were able to come level with their opponents, and prove there was still fight in the lowly side.
The Raiders would play most of the third tantalisingly close to a lead they seemed allergic to. Every time they came close to leading the ball would fall away from the net and against them, or a careless penalty would disable the drive.
Playing with more aggression, the Raiders seemed un afraid to attack the paint, and with their jabbing cuts, came four fouls from the Sharks. With points slowly going their way, finally the Raiders grabbed the lead for their first time on the afternoon, only to have it robbed away again just 10 seconds later.
The atmosphere seemed electric, and the fans support seemed a real advantage to the city side who took their last winning margin into the fourth full of optimism.
The shared sense of hope was quickly shattered under the roof of the Pavilions when the Sharks came on strong, and the Raiders shooting trouble came back with a vengeance.
The Raiders couldn’t find any way to score, as their visitors found a rhythm to outscore them by 15 points in five minutes.
With the score pilled against them and time expiring, the side seemed all but deflated, waiting for the mercy of the buzzer to end the game.
Bowman would once again lead the Raiders in scoring with 31 points, followed by Jarvelainen with 14 and Mathew at 11.
The Raiders end the season with eight wins and 25 losses, a record good enough to secure 10th in the BBL table.
In what’s been a frustrating season for his side, Love and the Raiders head office will need to work hard to re build a competitive squad during the off season, if they hope to make a run at the BBL playoffs next year.Game Stats