Love and his players run out of steam and ideas in defeat
JUST when you thought Marjon Plymouth Raiders had turned a corner this campaign, they reminded you on Friday night they haven't.
The chronic inconsistency, which plagued their early season form, returned with a vengeance against Durham Wildcats at the Pavilions in the BBL Championship.
Raiders were outplayed by a team, who only improved to 6-13 as a result of a shocking 98-81 win and outworked by Wildcats, who were shorthanded and only travelled with seven players.
Wildcats coach Dave Elderkin essentially stuck to a six-man rotation, while Raiders boss Gavin Love enjoyed, for the first time, the luxury of rotating a new-look, nine-deep squad.
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True, Raiders' bench outscored Wildcats' two reserves 28-6, but it didn't matter when the visitors' starters destroyed Raiders' by a breathtaking 39 points, 92-53. Ouch.
Where was all the spirit and passion, which saw shorthanded Raiders overcome Manchester Giants 119-115 in double-overtime six days earlier at the Pavilions? No-one knew.
It seemed like Raiders dug so deep, to extend their league winning streak to four contests, that night, they had nothing left – even allowing for six days off inbetween.
Raiders guard Drew Lasker, as always, spoke well and calmly following Friday's final buzzer.
He said: "We got a big slice of humble pie tonight. Being out there on the court, it just didn't feel right. It didn't feel like we had any cohesion.
"It was like night and day between last Saturday and today.
"The ball didn't move as well, everyone was dribbling as soon as they got it and offensively and defensively we were atrocious. It was embarrassing."
Wildcats shot 53 per cent from the floor overall and 52 per cent (12/23) from the three-point line, swamping Raiders by 24 points in three-point points.
Wildcats made 24 selfless assists, while Raiders completed only 15 and were outrebounded 39-32 and took 10 less shots than the visitors.
Home fans were left scratching their heads afterwards and asking why Raiders did not play a high-energy, high-tempo game, get shorthanded Wildcats in foul trouble most likely and simply run away with it.
That's easy to say in hindsight, of course. Instead, Love, when Raiders were trailing by 11 points, 75-64 early in the fourth quarter, opted conservatively and strangely to play a zone on defence, when most observers believed Raiders really needed to put pressure on the ball.
Wildcats were dangerous from deep all night. It arguably played right into their hands.
On their first two possessions after Raiders switched to a zone, Wildcats buried back-to-back threes with home defenders sat off them protecting space inside Wildcats didn't need to attack.
Ten weeks earlier this season in mid-November, a suffocating defensive display ensured Raiders humiliated Wildcats by 45 points, 113-68 in the North East.
Raiders' failure to replicate that form contributed to a spectacular, 63-point turnaround over both contests on Friday.
Brad Guinane, who finished 8/12 from the three-point arc and with a game-high 32 points, drilled a bomb from the right corner to make it 78-64 before team-mate Keith Page, who had 21 points in support, hit another from the left wing to make it 81-66.
Love's decision, at a critical juncture, had backfired – but if Raiders fans thought it couldn't any worse, it could.
Wildcats went on a 17-6 tear to balloon the gap to as many as 22 points, 98-76 at the death.
By now, early disbelief, among another full house at a buzzing Pavilions prior to tip-off, had turned from disappointment to finally disgruntlement.
It was all so different early in the first quarter. Raiders forward Colin O'Reilly darted to the Wildcats rim to make it 2-0 right from tip-off.
Centre Matt Schneck scored inside on a nice feed from point-guard Rod Brown before Barnett added back-to-back baskets to make it 8-2.
It was almost too easy. Almost.
Barnett tried to go it alone on Raiders' next possession, instead of moving the ball when he had team-mates in support, turning it over cheaply and helping spark an immediate 7-0 Wildcats response, which put the visitors 9-8 up.
Emotionally, Raiders were always chasing Wildcats' upbeat tails from that point and such are the fine lines that an ultra competitive BBL is drawn on this season – even against supposed struggling visitors.
Page fearlessly hit a three from the top of the arc on the counter to put Wildcats up for good, 24-21 late in the first frame.
Raiders guard Michael Ojo – back after a month out with a fractured eye socket – converted a short jump-short on the left baseline to make it 24-23 before Wildcats took over with a 15-2 tear, which built a 39-25 lead.
Forward Guinane caught fire during it and had 11 of the points, nine of them coming in three threes.
Raiders pieced together a 10-1 response, which cut the gap to five points, 40-35 in the middle of the second, but Wildcats' lead was back to 10, 49-39 at half-time.
Raiders still trailed by 10, 62-52 late in the third before they threatened a comeback with a 6-0 run, which pulled them back within four and made it 62-58.
Ojo triggered it with a three-point play after being fouled attacking the basket by Mike Baldarelli. O'Reilly then added a conventional three from the right arc on Schneck's assist from underneath the basket.
Wildcats instantly hit back with a mirror image 6-0 run, which rebuilt their lead to 10, 68-58 and that really was that.
Ralph Bucci sparked it with a three-point play of his own, after scoring and making a now hugely frustrated Ojo commit the foul.
Page did likewise after smartly picking off a loose Ojo pass and scoring while being fouled by a backtracking Lasker on the counter.
Lasker said: "Credit Durham, they played well tonight, but it was also about us being absolutely horrible.
"We started well and I thought, 'Okay, here we go', but we could just never get over the hump tonight.
"We were disjointed offensively and defensively, and there was no one person to point the finger at. It was us as a team. Just like we won as a team last week against Manchester, we lost as a team tonight."
Positives? It's hard, but power-forward and second-year professional Andreas Schreiber, 25, looked decent on his debut.
The 6ft 9in Swedish-American was motivated and aggressive at the defensive end, consistently forcing Wildcats to turn over possession under pressure.
He came off Raiders' bench and completed more than 12 minutes, mostly before half-time.
Schreiber showed a nice touch at the offensive end, scoring four points late in the fourth quarter, but the game was gone then and with it, if you're being honest, are Raiders' outside league title hopes.
The BBL play-offs remain on the horizon in April and while Raiders need fear no-one come the post-season, Friday reminded us they must also respect everyone.
Scorers: Raiders: Ojo 24 points (10/21 field-goals), Schneck 16 (5/7), O'Reilly 12 (5/8), Barnett 10 (3/8), Brown 8 (3/7), Lasker 7 (2/5), Schreiber 4 (2/6), Williams 0 (0/1), Potter DNP; Durham: Guinane 32 (12/17), Page 21 (9/15), Keister 19 (8/15)
Leading rebounder: Raiders: Schneck 10; Durham: Keister 14
Leader in assists: Raiders: Brown 6; Durham: Bucci 10
Field-Goal Percentage: Raiders: 48 per cent (30/63 attempts); Durham: 53 per cent (39/73)
Three-Point Percentage: Raiders: 36 per cent (4/11 attempts); Durham: 52 per cent (12/23)
Free-Throw Percentage: Raiders: 81 per cent (17/21 attempts); Durham: 80 per cent (8/10)