PLYMOUTH University Raiders first-year coach Jay Marriott says he faces his toughest test in charge following back-to-back defeats at the weekend.
Raiders, who in mitigation were fatigued from Saturday’s 104-77 defeat at Leicester Riders, threw away a 16-point first-half lead in a 86-78 loss to leaders Sheffield Sharks at the Pavilions on Sunday.
The depressing result drops Raiders’ record to 7-6 in the middle of the BBL.
Raiders should I believe have won on Sunday, but failed to knock Sharks out when they had them on the ropes in the opening 20 minutes.
But Raiders guards Matt Pressey and Donald Robinson – who, in their defence, have been terrific so far this season – together made 11 tired turnovers when they mentally hit a brick wall after half-time.
Defensively, Raiders made it too easy – embarrassingly easy at times – for Sharks to score.
If the first man got beat, there was no second Raiders defender covering across to aggressively contest Sharks’ shots at the rim.
It all added up to a second half collapse and 24-point turnaround in front of their own fans on Sunday – and one or two glimpses of unhappiness in the camp Marriott will want to keep an eye on.
Once, Marriott subbed his skipper, forward Ben Eaves out – before Eaves angrily banged the advertising hoarding in front of the Raiders bench and knocked it over.
A referee didn’t miss it and warned Eaves that if he stepped out of line again, he would be ejected from the game.
Was it a big deal? Not really.
But it’s a slippery slope and Marriott knows the challenges that now face him in the weeks and months ahead.
In short, your heart tells you Raiders are way better than a 7-6 record currently suggests – but your head reminds you standings never lie in sport.
Marriott said on Sunday night: “I truly believe we are a top team in this league, but we only show it in bright spurts, which is frustrating.
“I could accept it if Sheffield were far above the realms of this competition and I could stand here and just say what we are.
“But against Leicester on Saturday in the first quarter, they had no answer to us. We just implode.
“No-one’s beating us, we’re beating ourselves.”
Marriott added: “This is the biggest part of the season for me now and where I’ve got to put the proof in the pudding and coach, and really drive that consistency into the team.”
Raiders were tied with Sharks 16-apiece late in Sunday’s first quarter before pulling clear with an 18-5 run, which made it 34-21 early in the second.
Guard Matt Pressey anchored a well balanced home streak with six points alongside four other scorers – guard Donald Robinson, forwards Trevor Setty and Nick George, and centre Shane Walker.
Pressey sparked it with a pair of free-throws after being fouled inside by Sharks’ Patrick Horstmann before Robinson concluded the tear, on Pressey’s assist, with a beautiful finish at the rim on the counter, athletically rolling the ball home over the defender on the right baseline.
Raiders enjoyed their biggest lead of the afternoon and went 42-26 up on a nice Tom Woods jump-shot from the right elbow – before Marriott’s team foolishly switched off and allowed Sharks to respond with a 16-4 rally, which slashed the lead right back to four, 46-42 by early in the third.
Raiders found a second wind and continued to hit shots at the offensive end, but their inability to prevent Sharks grabbing 18 offensive rebounds meant they had to play draining defence for sustained stretches in the third.
By the time the fourth came Raiders had nothing left – physically, mentally or emotionally.
It was strange then Marriott didn’t sub in fresh hearts and minds in the fourth, but he did not until we were inside the final five minutes and Sharks had taken the lead for good at 72-71 on a Mike Tuck basket inside over heavy traffic.
Marriott’s next sub was inside the final three minutes when Sharks were 79-73 up on a killer BJ Holmes three from the right corner
Sharks’ Olu Babalola drilled a three from the left wing to push the gap to 82-73 and that was game over.
Marriott revealed afterwards he did not have total trust in some of his bench players in Sunday’s tight situation.
He said: “We should have had that win today.
“It’s difficult, because we have some guys in a rich vein of form and sometimes you just have to make that call.
“With the system we’re playing we need the nine guys. Sometimes I think guys look at me and want trust, but they’ve got to earn it rather than it just being given to them.”