London seal final play-off spot as regular season concludes

The quarter-final line-up for the BBL play-offs has been finalised as the regular season came to an end this weekend.

London Lions claimed 8th spot in dramatic style with a last-gasp win in Manchester to reach the play-offs.

The visitors raced out to an early lead and looked in control before the Giants mounted a valiant fightback to draw level late in the fourth before London‘s deadline day signing Rod Brown broke their hearts. The guard, who moved from Plymouth in February, layed the ball in, in the dying seconds to finish with 18 points in the nail-biting 87-85 victory. Tayo Ogedengbe led the way for the Lions with 25 points in a winner takes all battle for the final play-off place.

Manchester were down by as many as 21 points in the second quarter but compiled a 19-3 run in the final quarter to give themselves hope before falling just short. Jeff Jones’ men then finished the season on a high with their third straight win on the road after a 114-92 success in Durham to seal 9th place on their return to the BBL after James Jones top scored with 24 points.

The battle for a top four place had involved four team for several weeks and was finally settled after Glasgow and Surrey picked up the necessary victories to cement their places. Plymouth go into the post-season having lost four games in a row and now face a trip to Scotland in the play-offs for the second straight season.

The Raiders first lost to Worcester, who had a double-win over the weekend to finish their campaign in style, and then fell to a tight defeat against Surrey, who prevailed in overtime. Gavin Love’s men went down 106-69 at home on Saturday before the agonizing 101-99 defeat beyond regulation came 24 hours later as Travis Holmes continued his hot streak for the Heat with 27 points.

Surrey sealed fourth place with their overtime win and now face Worcester in the play-offs. Paul James’ men enjoyed a comprehensive win against Plymouth to end their campaign on a high having ended the unbeaten streak of Leicester the previous day. The Wolves had six players in double figures against Plymouth while Arturas Masiulis had a 19 point haul in their last home game of the season.

With the Championship title already wrapped up, Rob Paternostro rested several key stars in the 86-58 defeat against Worcester with several members of the uni team fielded. However, the big stars returned on Sunday for their final league game and Leicester completed a perfect season at home with their 17th win in front of their home fans after beating Newcastle 86-75. The Eagles took the opportunity to rest some of their big names with Damon Huffman, Charles Smith and Joe Chapman all absent as Darius Defoe stepped up with 32 points.

Newcastle completed their home campaign with a 93-80 win over Glasgow to delay their third place finish as Huffman exploded for 36 points on 6-9 shooting from 3-PT range. The Eagles had suffered a defeat in Sheffield earlier in the week as the Sharks were victorious 80-70 in a play-off dress rehearsal. The BBL Trophy winners then finished their season with an 85-72 win in Cheshire to move a game over the .500 mark after double-doubles from Demetrius Jemison (20-10) and Mike Tuck (18-15).

Mersey Tigers became the first BBL team to go a whole season without a win after being beaten by Durham and Glasgow over the week-end. The Tigers lost 87-100 to the Wildcats in their final home game before suffering their 33rd league defeat in Scotland as the Rocks secured third spot with a 90-57 win on Sunday.

Play-Off Quarter-Finals:

Leicester Riders (1) v London Lions (8)
Newcastle Eagles (2) v Sheffield Sharks (7)
Glasgow Rocks (3) v Plymouth Raiders (6)
Surrey Heat (4) v Worcester Wolves (5)

Semi-Finals– Highest remaining seed v Lowest remaining seed while the other two teams play each other.

All ties played over two legs until the Final at Wembley Arena on 28th April.

Leicester Riders claim BBL Championship

RIDERS SEAL TITLE; TOP FOUR BATTLE INTENSIFIES & GIANTS GAIN INITIATIVE IN PLAY-OFF RACE

Leicester Riders clinched the BBL title for the first time in the club’s history after extending their winning streak in the league. Rob Paternostro’s men sealed their second trophy of the season in front of their home fans with a 93-70 win against Durham on Saturday before a 95-65 win in Mersey the following day. The champions had six players in double-figures against the Wildcats, led by Anthony Rowe’s 15 points whie Yorrick Williams top scored against the Tigers with several uni players featuring.

Newcastle did their part in delaying the inevitable with an impressive win in Worcester which also secured second spot as Charles Smith exploded for 40 points in the 102-87 success. The Eagles then won again on the road on Sunday after beating Sheffield 88-80 in a close fought encounter. Atiba Lyons’ men came into that match on a high after wins over Glasgow (62-52) and Plymouth (72-78) during the week to make it six in a row. Sheffield and Newcastle meet again tonight (Tuesday) in the league and will also clash in the play-offs.

Despite another loss against Sheffield, Glasgow are still favourites for a top four finish after two home wins against Surrey and Worcester. EJ Harrison had a 24 point haul in the 98-70 win over his former-side Heat before Sterling Davis led from the front in the 88-69 win over the Wolves despite a 28 point haul from Alex Owumi.

Worcester dented Plymouth’s hopes after a big 89-69 home win on Friday night which preceeded the Raiders‘ defeat at home to Sheffield. Surrey moved back into the top four on Sunday with a close fought 98-92 win over London after 30 points from Travis Holmes and can seal a top four spot with a win against Plymouth which is likely to be a play-off encounter too with their positions.

Manchester Giants have their play-off fate in their own hands now after London‘s loss having recorded a convincing win against Mersey at the weekend. Jeff Jones’ men host London Lions in a pivotal clash before travelling to Durham knowing two wins will set up a last eight clash with the league champions in the play-offs.

Results:

TUE 26th- Sheffield Sharks 62-52 Glasgow Rocks; Worcester Wolves 87-102 Newcastle Eagles; FRI 29th- Worcester Wolves 89-69 Plymouth Raiders; Glasgow Rocks 98-70 Surrey Heat; Mersey Tigers 67-93 Manchester Giants; SAT 30th- Plymouth Raiders 72-78 Sheffield Sharks; Leicester Riders 93-70 Durham Wildcats; SUN 31st- Sheffield Sharks 80-88 Newcastle Eagles; Surrey Heat 98-92 London Lions; Mersey Tigers 65-95 Leicester Riders; Glasgow Rocks 88-69 Worcester Wolves

The Weekend: Riders Edge Closer to Championship

Leicester Riders are now just virtually one win away from the BBL title after a stunning overtime win in Manchester took their unbeaten streak in the league to 14 games.

Jay Couisnard forced OT with a THREE on the buzzer after Leicester had trailed the Giants by as many as 20 points before nailing the game-winner with another clutch triple at the death. The BBL Cup Final MVP led the way with 31 points as the Riders battled on in the absence of Zaire Taylor and Jorge Calvo.

STAT:

24 hours earlier, Rob Paternostro’s men continued their perfect home record in the league this season with their 13th win on their home floor, beating the Glasgow Rocks 84-71. Leicester used a strong third quarter as a platform for their success and were led by a 24 point haul from Drew Sullivan.

Another benefactory of the Leicester win against Manchester were the Sheffield Sharks – who became the seventh team to qualify for the play-offs. However, Newcastle now have to beat Worcester on Tuesday to avoid losing their crown despite wins over Durham (96-92) and Mersey (92-69) this weekend despite the absence of Kareem Maddox and Damon Huffman.

The battle for the top four intensified over the weekend with Plymouth and Surrey doing double-duty to capitalise on Glasgow‘s loss to Leicester and Worcester‘s double blow. The Raiders claimed third with a 98-92 win in Cheshire following a 93-79 victory at home to the Tigers on Friday. Javarris Barnett had a 28 point showing against the Phoenix, who were already out of contention for the play-offs after a loss to Surrey two days earlier.

It was a good weekend for Surrey as they bounced back from successive defeats last week to record a double victory. Travis Holmes continued his fine run of form with a 30 point haul in the 108-84 home win against Cheshire and a game-high 26 in Durham when the Heat won 99-87 in front of the Sky cameras.

STAT: Travis Holmes has now scored 100 points in his last three games for Surrey following a 44 point haul last Sunday.

The weekend was nearly a Giant one for Manchester before their heart-breaking loss against Leicester on Sunday. Jeff Jones’ side are still in the hunt for the play-offs after they pulled off an impressive 91-82 in Worcester as David Watts returned to haunt his former side with 29 points. The Wolves had seen their seven game win streak come to an end the day before when Sheffield continued their own win streak with a 78-73 success after a strong first half.

BBL Trophy Final 2013 Preview

rsz_bbl_trophyThe second trophy of the season is up for grabs on Saturday in Glasgow as the Leicester Riders take on the Sheffield Sharks at the Emirates Arena.

Rob Paternostro’s side have now contested the last three major finals having won their first trophy in over a decade when they defeated Newcastle to win the BBL Cup back in January. Meanwhile, the opposing Sharks reached their first final since losing the 2011 Play-Off Final when Mersey Tigers completed a memorable treble. Sheffield last competed in the Trophy final in 1998 when they defeated the London Towers while Leicester last reached the competition’s climax in 2006 but were defeated by a Newcastle side on their way to the ‘clean sweep’.

Sheffield have never finished below 6th in the league in 17 seasons in the BBL but currently find themselves languishing in seventh locked in a play-off battle with 10 games remaining. In contrast, the Riders are enjoying a stellar campaign and are already on course to set a new club record for most wins in a regular season. Last season, Leicester achieved their best league finish with a runner-up spot having won 22 games in a season for the first time.

The two sides have met on four occasions this season so far with Leicester victorious in each game. In the season opener, the league leaders edged to a 71-55 success in Sheffield and the two teams then progressed to the last four of the BBL Cup where a semi-final showdown took place. Atiba Lyons’ men fell to a 90-70 defeat on their home court before suffering a heavier defeat on the road as Leicester’s 75-45 gave them a 165-115 aggregate victory. Last month, Sheffield were restricted to just 51 points in a 21 point defeat in front of the Sky cameras in Loughborough and the two sides clash again next Wednesday at the EIS Arena.

Leicester  and Sheffield have had contrasting runs on their way to the final in Glasgow especially in the semi-finals. The Sharks enjoyed a comfortable 176-134 aggregate victory over the Cheshire Phoenix, who were without two leading scorers in Chez Marks and Jerome Gumbs for the second leg. The Riders on the other hand were locked in a tight duel with the Worcester Wolves despite winning 82-73 in the first leg on the road. Paul James‘ men battled back in Leicester and managed to take the overall lead at one point in the fourth before falling short 148-141 on aggregate even with their 68-66 success.

In the earlier stages, Sheffield needed overtime in both of their opening matches as they saw off the Giants 85-73 in Manchester before beating the Glasgow Rocks 84-81 at home in the quarter-finals. Leicester‘s route to the last four was more straight forward with convincing victories on the road following up a 105-73 win against the Essex Leopards with an 82-66 success over the Surrey Heat. 

BJ Holmes has proved a worthy replacement of Gage Daye and leads the team’s Trophy stats in scoring (17.5ppg) and assists (2.8) having top scored in the last eight clash with a 25 point haul. Mike Tuck has had a strong Trophy campaign so far, averaging 16 points per game and 12.8 rebounds a game while Micah Williams (14ppg) and Demetrius Jemison (12ppg) are the other scoring options for the Sharks. Zaire Taylor leads the Riders in scoring with an average of 17 points in the four games while Drew Sullivan‘s stats portray his all-round performances with an average of 14 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6 assists.

Both teams have a number of scoring threats but it’s the Leicester Riders that will go into the final as favourites with their defence key to their successes this season, conceding an average of 67.1 points which is comfortably the best record in the league. A low scoring defensive battle is expected with Tuck and Jemison taking on the likes of Anthony Rowe, Pavol Losonsky and Sullivan in the rebounding department which could prove cruical. A win for Paternostro and his Riders and talk of a ‘clean sweep’ will arise once more.

Heat too much for depleted Phoenix

Sunday 3rd March- Surrey Sports Park

Surrey Heat put a poor February behind them with an 87-78 victory over Cheshire Phoenix as they look to march towards a top-four finish.

Despite his side’s first win in five league games, Creon Raftopoulos was not overwhelmed by Surrey‘s display, particularly on the defensive end:

“We’re happy to get the victory but I’m not thrilled by the performance against an under-manned Cheshire team. We need to get back to play and playing good defence for the whole game and not just in spurts like today,” said Heat‘s head-coach.

The visiting Phoenix were once again without Chez Marks and Jerome Gumbs but their player-coach Matt Lloyd was pleased with how his depleted side coped. Gabe Haskins, Shawn Myers, Stuart Thomson and Chris Pearce all played the full 40 minutes while Alif Bland only sat out for 1:25 due to foul trouble.

Lloyd said: “We did a great job considering we were missing our two leading scorers and by playing hard we managed to stay with them throughout. There’s been some really good performances of late, against Newcastle and Leicester, but it was tough with Jerome (Gumbs) being ill and Chez (Marks) family bereavement and our thoughts are with him and his family.”

Bland opened the game with a block on Chavis Holmes but Cheshire‘s offence was slow to get going and it was the home side who rushed out to a 7-2 start. However, Haskins scored seven points including a triple to cap a 12-0 run to force Raftopoulos into a time-out. His side responded with the final six points of the quarter but they still trailed 14-13.

The lead crept back up to seven points as Bland took his tally to 11 points early on in the second before Surrey compiled a pivotal 17-1 tear to take control. Frank Holmes added six points during the run to join Travis on 10 points at half-time where they led 38-32 after a deep three from Haskins ending the second quarter scoring.

When play resumed, Surrey strenghtened their grip on the game with the first ten points of the third before Pearce ended Cheshire’s baron start to the second half with a 3-pointer almost three and a minutes into the quarter. Albert Margai and Thomson traded scores from beyond the arc as the gap peaked at 17 points before the ‘Nix rallied for a 10-2 run which contained a spectacular tip-in dunk from Myers from a missed free throw from Thomson. A late steal and dunk from Pearce gave Cheshire hope of victory as they were down 63-54 heading into the final quarter.

Julius Joseph took over at the start of the fourth with a personal 9-2  run to take his points tally to 20 as the hosts increased their lead to 18 points for the first time. Once again, Cheshire continued to battle and gradually begin to reduce their arrears with Thomson beginning to get hot from long range. The former Worcester and Manchester forward struck twice from downtown in a 10-2 burst for the visitors to haul Cheshire to within 6 points at 82-76 with 1:34 left. It was as close as they were to get as Surrey ran down the clock before ending the game with 3/4 successful free throws to seal the victory.

Frank Holmes and namesake Travis top scored for Surrey with 22 points each while Joseph contributed a vital 20 point haul in just over 21 minutes of action off the bench. Chavis Holmes dished out 12 assists with Raftopoulos happy with how his point guards ‘controlled the game’. Haskins was the orchestrator for Phoenix and collected 20 points via a number of well executed shots. Bland (19pts/13rbs) and Myers (14pts/13rbs) contributed double-doubles while Thomson made 4-8 from 3-PT range on his way to 16 points.

The teams meet twice again this month in a spell Creon has targeted as a chance to push for a top four finish.

Raftopoulos said: “We’ve targeted this mini-series as important to push on for the top four spot. The way the system is, I don’t mind what position we finish in as long as we have momentum going into he play-offs and hopefully we can kick on now Travis (Holmes) is getting back in the flow of things.”

NEXT UP: HEAT– @ Newcastle 08/03/13; v Mersey 10/03/13; v Leicester 16/03/13. PHOENIX– v Worcester 10/03/13; @ Sheffield 15/03/13; v Surrey 17/03/13.

Surrey should beat Mersey but face a tough trip to Newcastle beforehand before hosting the league leaders in 2 weeks time. 1 win in 3 most likely. Cheshire have a tough run-in but four of their last six games are at home and that could be key to getting into the play-offs. If they get Marks and Gumbs back soon then they could surprise the Wolves or Heat at home whilst travelling to Sheffield for a massive game. Again, I win in 3 is probably most likely.

There were only three other games in the league this weekend with Newcastle kicking off the action on Friday with an emphatic 100-57 win on the road against Mersey to tie Leicester on points. On Sunday, Glasgow  claimed outright third place with an 88-66 win over Durham, who saw their play-off hopes fade. The final game was a key play-off clash and London Lions came out the victors beating Trophy finalists Sheffield, 86-78 to move six points clear of the Sharks. Rod Brown made an impressive debut for the London side with 15 points and nine assists following his recent move from the Plymouth Raiders.