Plymouth Raiders put together their best defensive performance in over a decade to defeat Sheffield Sharks on Friday night at the English Institute of Sport. Having held the Sharks to 66 points in their previous two meetings this season, splitting the games with one win each, the head-to-head was up for grabs but more importantly, two points in the race for an end of season play-off spot.
The Sharks came out hot in the first couple of minutes. Chris Alexander hit two three-pointers to put them ahead 8 – 2 before two points from Rashad Hassan and ten from Donte Nicholas split by a couple of baskets for the Sharks, edged the Raiders in front, 13 – 14 with under three minutes to play. Both teams traded the lead but nothing could separate them after the opening ten minutes with the score tied at 19 – 19.
The second period remained close in the opening two minutes with the visitors holding a 24 – 25 lead before Raiders hit seven unanswered points in a minute forcing the home side to call a timeout. Alexander came out of the time out with five points to close the gap to three, but then the Raiders stepped up putting together a 4 – 14 run to close out the half with a healthy 33 – 46 lead.
Raiders stretched their lead to 21 points, 41 – 62 mid way through the third period behind eight points from Hassan, six from Josh Wilcher and two from Joonas Järveläinen before four minutes of missed shots for both sides saw the only points come from two free throws for the home side to close the quarter behind, 43 – 62.
Sharks opened the scoring in the final period with a three pointer but Raiders again pilled on the pressure scoring 13 unanswered to lead by 29 and that was increased to 30 with three minutes still to play following a three from Järveläinen. Sharks hit back with a three of their own which followed with a minute of no scoring before both sides rested key players with the two points already heading back to Plymouth. Nicholas added a further three points from the free throw line taking his tally to 28 for the game before the Raiders closed out the game winners with a final score of 56 – 85.
Along with his 28 points, Nicholas also added 14 rebounds and five steals on his way to an index score of 48 and he was supported by Wilcher who had 21, all from behind the arc, Hassan on 20 and Järveläinen with 12 and nine rebounds.
The win see the Raiders hold onto the final playoff spot, level on points with seventh place Cheshire Phoenix who have a game in hand against Leicester Riders on Sunday, and two points ahead of Bristol Flyers who have two games in hand. Both Cheshire and Bristol have the head-to-head over the Raiders, so when the Flyers visit the Pavilions on Easter Sunday, the result may end one of the two team’s play-off dreams.
Raiders face a tough game when they travel to London City Royals next Saturday before travelling back to Plymouth to host Worcester Wolves on Sunday, 15:00 tip. Tickets for the game can be bought online from https://www.theticketstore.co.uk.