A disastrous middle two quarters for Worcester Wolves proved costly as UCP Marjon Plymouth Raiders took a gigantic stride towards the BBL Cup Final next month.
Despite a tight opening 10 minutes of the first leg, Wolves imploded offensively and Raiders took maximum advantage as they began to slowly shatter home dreams of stepping out at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.
While the tie is still mathematically alive, Wolves need a miracle performance after they were put to the sword by Jeremy Bell who poured in 33 points and Lehmon Colbert who claimed a double-double of 27 points and 13 rebounds.
There was very little daylight between the teams throughout a keenly contested and hard fought opening quarter which neither club was able to edge. The hosts had moved 10-7 in front in the early stages and looked strong in the paint but after briefly stretching their lead to seven points at one stage, they couldn’t press home their advantage as Raiders finished strongly to level matters at 23-23 heading into the second period.
This was when the visitors really came alive at both ends of the court. They visibly stepped up their defence and that set the tone for an excellent quarter offensively as they took control of the game ahead of half-time with the majestic Bell pulling the strings. Nine unanswered points by Raiders broke the game open despite the home team starting the scoring with a basket by Tommy Freeman.
The home team struggled with the superior ball movement of their opponent and were finding it difficult to guard livewire Bell who once again was hugely influential for his team. Raiders kept pressing and as they shifted through the gears making more and more outside shots, the Wolves floundered. A buzzer beating three-pointer summed up the first 20 minutes as it took the Devon club out to a commanding and satisfying 49-34 lead as both sets of players headed for the locker rooms.
Aside from 14 points from Tommy Freeman, the home team had very little in terms of offensive production compared to Raiders who already had 3 players into double digits. Coach Paul James needed his team to respond and come out strongly at the start of the second half but it was Raiders who continued their good work and perhaps sensing an opportunity to get a foot in the final earlier than anticipated, they really went for it.
A 9-0 burst to open the third quarter meant they led 58-34 inside two minutes of the restart and while there were still almost six quarters of basketball left to play in the tie, it looked a long way back from Wolves who gave themselves a mountain to climb.
After losing their discipline out of frustration, the hosts were handed a glimmer of hope when Raiders forward Anthony Rowe fouled out of the game prematurely. But it ended up making little difference as the visitors maintained their grip at 81-53 heading into the last ten minutes which were little more than a procession for the Raiders as they eased to a terrific win.