HEAT SCORCH WOLVES FOR SEMI SPOT

bbl_tv_568Surrey Heat moved into the semi-finals of the BBL play-offs with a 76-70 victory over Worcester Wolves on Sunday, winning the tie 154-151 on aggregate.

After losing 81-78 and going down by double-digits on the night during the second leg, it looked as if the season was over for the Heat, but they rallied with a stunning 29-13 final quarter to seal their place in the last four of the competition.

“Four against Five was always going to be a tough match-up,” said Heat coach Creon Raftopoulos after the game. “I think Worcester probably could have finished higher in the league had they got Prezzie-Blue in earlier and so forth , but all teams have had to deal with different sorts of adversity.

“Coming back from Worcester with a three-point [deficit], we thought we had it in ourselves to do it. We made it tough, I think the fans enjoyed it a lot more than I did. But you know my guys showed great heart. I think a lot of teams would have thrown in the towel, but we kept on going… and I’m over the moon.”

There was little between the teams in a tight opening at 7-7 after a triple from Wolves’ danger man Alex Owumi. Then with respective defences on top, only the home side managed a score during a near four minute drought for the visitors, who found themselves 13-10 behind after ten minutes.

It was a different story when they finally began to get into their stride and in fact, the second quarter became a real shoot out with a flurry of threes as Caylin Raftopoulos converted from distance for Heat, either side of triples from Owumi and Stan Ocitti to ensure the scores were locked at 16-16.

The Wolves then made what looked to be a game-winning move, picking up the intensity with a 10-4 run and when Kai Williams also sunk a three-pointer to give them a double-digit lead on the night at 34-24 by half-time, it looked like a long way back for the slightly subdued home side.

But, they had to weather a Heat storm when the game resumed after Creon Raftopoulos fired up his team in the locker room. They responded with a barnstorming opening which made it a one-shot game at 41-39 to Wolves after a pair of free-throws from Chavis Holmes.

However, Wolves put their foot back on the accelerator with eight unanswered points and by the end of the third quarter, had re-established their double-figure lead at 57-47.

Heat needed to respond with another strong run and duly obliged with a sensational 19-4 start to come alive and grab the initiative with both hands.

Free-throws by Cricelli brought Heat level on the night and then into the lead at 61-60 to put the Wolves on the ropes. Then, when the same player made it 66-61 to give them the lead in the tie, the visitors were reeling.

In a tense finale, Heat continued their new-found momentum right up until the final buzzer. Although nerves were shredded when Wolves kept their prospect alive at 74-70 behind with a handful of seconds left, the ice-cool Travis Holmes did the business from the free-throw line to cement a fabulous victory.

Raftopoulos may go into next weekend’s semi-finals without Julius Joseph, who left the game with a back injury late in the first quarter and did not return.

“It was pretty bad the way his back locked up, all we can do is wait and see. It leaves us with a thin bench but I’m so proud of this team because as you guys know we’ve been dealing with this the whole season.”

“I think we threw the game away,” said Wolves’ coach Paul James. “We had a couple of opportunities to put the game to bed and we didn’t take those, and then to compound things, 19 fouls. When you look at the game overall, we didn’t deserve to win.”

He added: “It’s our own fault. We didn’t take care of the ball as we should and if you don’t do that, you can lose the game.

“Alex Owumi and Sherrad Prezzie-Blue gave it everything they had. A couple of players didn’t show as we expected, but it might have been the whole situation of the occasion. I think as a team we did really well in parts, we got a little nervous in the fourth quarter and ten turnovers in the second half killed us.

“The good thing is we are improving and we’re getting to quarter-finals and semi-finals and being competitive, and that’s what I tried to do when I first came to the club.

“We’re doing that; we took another step forward this season and we look to improve next season.”

Glasgow Rocks will have to overcome a huge deficit on Monday night in Devon after losing 82-71 to Plymouth Raiders at the Emirates Arena.

After trailing 62-49 midway through the third period, EJ Harrison proved the talisman for a Rocks recovery in the fourth as Plymouth were held scoreless for over four minutes as Glasgow reduced the gap to 70-69.

However the visitors, paced by 24 points and 14 rebounds from Andreas Schreiber,  pulled out a 12-2 closing run to restore their cushion.

“They gave us a lot,” admitted Mike Ojo, whose side’s aggressive approach secured 35 trips to the foul line, 18 more than the Rocks. “But we have to feel confident we can close this off at home.”

A similar performance in the return in Devon will surely see Glasgow’s season come to a disappointing end.

“We have to re-group,” said their player-coach Sterling Davis, who is likely to again be without centre Jamie Vanderbeken due to a back injury.

“We have to do a much better job offensively and especially defensively.  If we do that, we have a chance to recover and get through to the next round. But we were a step and a half too slow. They had us all over the place.”

 

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