Western Morning News
Raiders perform but let lead slip in final quarter
PLYMOUTH Raiders suffered a loss in their first game of the new year after a closely fought, physical game went down to the wire, with opponents Sheffield Sharks coming out 83-78 winners.
Sharks had a new signing in Jordan Ratinho, who made an instant impact on his debut with his threepoint scoring, to add to the already impressive backcourt for the SouthYorkshire side.
Raiders were looking to continue the good form they showed in their last match against Worcester, but were eventually beaten by the freethrow scoring late in the game as they got into foul trouble.
Prince Ibeh won the tip and Will Neighbour opened the scoring with the turnaround-three. Ibeh followed up with two early blocks on Mike Tuck and Nick Lewis, with Kipper Nichols responding with a strong drive for the lay-up, adding the andone to tie the scoring.
Chris Porter-Bunton knocked down consecutive threes which stretched Raiders’ early advantage to six on the scoreboard, and Ashley Hamilton continued to drive into the paint and pick up fouls.
Ibeh found his frontcourt partner Neighbour with the floated pass which allowed him to get the easy lay-up to go, but Sheffield weren’t backing down as Jeremy Hemsley added four quick points off two fastbreak opportunities and Antwon Lillard then made it a one-point ballgame with the left-handed lay-up through contact before the timeout was called by Paul James.
Jordan Ratinho stepped onto the court for the first time in Sharks colours but couldn’t stop Rickey McGill from getting his first points of the game with the mid-range pull-up jumper. The Portuguese-American got his first points in the league with his first attempt, getting the cornerthree to drop and giving the home side their first lead of the game. There were no scores in the final minute of the first quarter and the Sharks led 20-18 at the break.
Sheffield then controlled the ball and piled on the scoring in the second to lead by nine, but Raiders tied the game at 35 apiece through a couple more McGill free-throws, but Ratinho closed out the half with a coast-to-coast lay-up, slithering through the strong defence to get the late score and the lead as Sheffield went into half-time with a two-point advantage, leading 43-41.
Plymouth started the second half with some tough defence as Neighbour managed to tip away a pass and Denzel Ubiaro blocked Nichols’ attempted shot from behind the arc. Raiders then proceeded to play excellent team basketball which saw Ubiaro add the three-pointer after some clinical passing play.
Both sides were intense as they tried to corral the rebounds, with neither side letting way on defence or loose possessions. Raiders were having a block party as they spiked another shot away from their basket, closing out the lane. Rickey McGill took his personal scoring up to 13 with a three in the corner and Ashley Hamilton led the charge on defence as he forced Nichols into an eightsecond violation.
Porter-Bunton was having a lot of success from the field as he shot 100 per-cent in the game with a couple of minutes left in the third quarter, which took him to 15 personal points. McGill added another three to stretch the lead to eight points.
Raiders players and fans would have felt aggrieved as Denzel Ubiaro got whacked on the late lay-up, with the referees seeing nothing untoward. Ratinho was fouled at the other end and made one-of-two to end the quarter, Plymouth with control of the game as they led 62-57.
Nick Lewis opened the scoring in the final period with a three from the top of the key, and Porter-Bunton made one-of-two from the line before getting his first missed field goal of the game from downtown.
Hamilton cut the deficit to a single-score with his soft lay-up after the pump-fake, but Lillard had the hot-hand as he drew the foul on his high-arching bank-shot, missing the extra attempt. Hemsley got the three to go to and widened the lead back out to eight points with over three minutes on the clock.
Free throws from the Sharks neutralised the late scoring from the Raiders, as they continued to make their clutch charity-shots. Sheffield came out victorious in an enthralling game for the neutrals, eventually winning 83-78 in a game where either team could have claimed victory for their tireless efforts.
Porter-Bunton was excellent in the game shooting 85 per-cent from the field to get 18-points in the game, with Ibeh’s inside presence showing on the box score with a monstrous seven blocks, the most in a BBL match for a single player since Kieron Achara in 2015.
Raiders’ next outing will be against Leicester Riders at home on Thursday evening, where the side will be looking to take the game to one of the most in-form teams in the league.