PLYMOUTH University Raiders made BBL champions Newcastle Eagles work hard to maintain their unbeaten start to the season at the Plymouth Pavilions.
It was only a late surge that secured the Eagles a 99-93 victory over Jay Marriott’s new-look side.
Raiders are still looking for their first win of the 2015/16 campaign, having lost to Manchester Giants and London Lions in their opening two games, but they will have taken encouragement from their display against Fab Flournoy’s Newcastle.
Newcastle arrived at the Pavilions with a 5-0 record and having won all four trophies on offer last season.
Visiting Rahmon Fletcher scored the first two points of the game before New Zealander BJ Anthony replied with his own basket for the Raiders.
The first of 22 three-point baskets was claimed by Newcastle’s Joe Chapman. Raiders’ Daryl Corletto replied with his own three points, but they were from the free-throw line after he was fouled.
Anthony then got in on the three-point act before another from Chapman.
New Raiders signing Ritchie Edwards came on for his debut, replacing Dante Williams. His first play was to make an excellent block on an attempted basket from former Raider Drew Lasker.
Edwards, who was playing in the New Zealand league, then went up the other end to score his first points in Raiders colours.
Reigning BBL MVP Charles Smith, who has been a constant threat to Raiders over many years, scored a basket after many missed attempts. With further threes from Anthony and Fletcher the score at the end of the first quarter was 29-23 to the Raiders.
Newcastle’s Andrew Thomson started the quarter with a three before Corletto got a basket from an offence rebound.
After further Eagles scores, Raiders coach Jay Marriott called a time-out with his team 31-29 in front.
After the short break, Corletto scored a three and then made an easy steal from Charles Smith. However, far from feeling sorry for himself, Smith did what he is best at and took the ball and scored a big three, this was also quickly followed by one from his Eagles team-mate Scott Martin to put his side in front.
More threes were scored from Edwards and Fletcher. Raiders’ Edwards, enjoying a fine debut, then made Smith look like a rookie with a brilliant steal then march to the basket to smash a massive slam dunk to the delight of the home fans.
With a second three of the quarter from Thomson, it ended a feisty first half with the teams tied at 49-49.
Josh Wilcher scored his only three of the game early in the second half with Dante Williams adding his own two and Anthony scored 1/2 from the free-throw line, despite the chanting of the away fans.
Thomson collected his third three with a long shot, but Corletto responded with a three and a two to give Raiders a narrow 66-65 lead.
Smith added another three and Eagles scored more vital points to make Raiders call a time-out with the visitors 72-66 in front.
After the restart, Mike Vigor and Wilcher exchanged passes to create a great basket for Raiders.
The end of the third quarter saw both teams missing vital chances and Vigor missed both his free throws in the final minute to leave Newcasstle 74-68 up at the end of the third.
The game was still finely balanced with Raiders still in with a realistic chance of claiming their first win of the season.
With Plymouth taking the game to Newcastle, Edwards and Anthony scored vital threes and Wilcher a two to tie up a really entertaining game at 80-80. Could Raiders stop Eagles unbeaten start?
However, this new optimism and enthusiasm for the home fans was short lived with baskets for Eagles, who went 86-80 up before a time-out was called.
Thomson got his fourth three after the break before a two from Corletto and a slam dunk from Williams.
Eagles then called a time-out with them five points in front at 89-84.
Newcastle always know when to turn up the pressure at vital times and baskets from Smith put them nine in front with time running out.
Another three and a two from Edwards closed the gap briefly but with a series of time wasting fouls from Raiders was not enough.
This, however was a very encouraging performance from the team in green and definitely made Eagles work extremely hard.
A lot of positives must be taken from their performance into next Saturday’s match against Bristol Flyers.
Corletto was named as MVP at the end.
Match Stats – Daryl Corletto 20 points, 9 assists; BJ Anthony 20, 12 rebounds; Ritchie Edwards 19, 4 Turnovers; Mike Vigor 14, 2 steals; Josh Wilcher 10, 9 assists; Auryn MacMillan 6, 13 rebounds; Dante Williams 4