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Season Review: Plymouth Raiders

It was a case of close but not close enough for Plymouth in 2011/12, as they were beaten in two finals and finished 4th in the BBL.

Final Position: 4th
Season Record: Played – 30 Won 21 – Lost – 9
Points: 42
Play-Offs: Quarter Finals
Player of the Season: Jeremy Bell

Plymouth Raiders began their season with three wins out of four in the BBL Trophy to qualify from the group stage. The Raiders defeated Guildford Heat twice (95-91 & 87-83) and Worcester Wolves at home 85-62 but lost the away game to Worcester 96-85 but still had accumulated enough points to go through to the knockout stages.

Before their BBL League campaign began, Plymouth faced two matches in the BBL Cup. The Raiders managed to knock out Durham Wildcats (88-74) and edged a thriller 85-83 against Sheffield Sharks to book their place in the semi-final of the BBL Cup.

Plymouth kicked off their league campaign with a 92-76 victory over Milton Keynes Lions but suffered back to back defeats to Worcester and Newcastle. Wins against Durham Wildcats (80-75) and Leicester Riders (84-62) were the perfect preparation for a BBL Cup semi-final against Worcester Wolves.

Jeremy Bell scored 33 points to give Plymouth a 111-83 lead going into the second leg of the semi-final after Worcester Wolves put in a below par performance and the Raiders took advantage. The second leg proved that the first leg score was an essential one for Plymouth as Worcester Wolves would the return leg 89-82 but Plymouth went through to the final with a 193-172 aggregate win.

Plymouth continued their blistering league form by reeling off three straight victories to give themselves a great opportunity to challenge for the league title. A 94-67 win over Glasgow Rocks was followed up by two wins on the bounce against out of form Mersey Tigers. Plymouth broke the 100 point barrier on both occasions to record 102-82 and 101-84 wins consecutively.

The Raiders could not be going into the BBL Cup Final in better form but faced a massive challenge in BBL pacesetters Newcastle Eagles. Plymouth managed 94 points in the Cup Final, a point’s total that would put most team’s names on the cup. However, Newcastle, inspired by 39 points from Charles Smith, was in no mood to mess about. Despite a great match, Plymouth lost out 115-94 to the Eagles in what was a memorable cup final.

Despite the setback of losing the cup final, Plymouth carried on where they had left off in the league and picked up another three wins in a row. The Raiders took advantage of three home games in a row to pick up wins against Guildford Heat (98-68), Cheshire Jets (81-75) and Glasgow Rocks (85-78).

Another semi-final awaited Plymouth, this time in the BBL Trophy, as the Raiders faced Milton Keynes Lions. The first leg, in Milton Keynes, ended in defeat for Plymouth but having gone down by just six points, Raiders had a chance of securing a place in the final when the return leg came about.

That return leg, played at Plymouth’s Pavilions, was a tight encounter and 32 point haul from Jeremy Bell proved decisive as Plymouth won the match 107-99 and the tie 188-186 – one of the closest semi-finals in BBL history. The victory meant that Plymouth would yet again face Newcastle Eagles in a BBL final and provided them with a chance for revenge after tasting defeat in the final stage of the BBL Cup.

Plymouth suffered their first defeat in nine BBL league matches when Worcester Wolves picked up a 100-80 victory over the Raiders. Two straight wins against Sheffield Sharks and Mersey Tigers preceded two back to back defeats to old rivals Newcastle Eagles and rejuvenated Guildford Heat. This up and down form would soon be corrected by Gavin Love’s men as they were about to embark on an impressive run of BBL victories.

It started with an impressive away victory to Newcastle Eagles, 85-76, and continued with wins against struggling Durham Wildcats (92-70) and Sheffield Sharks (94-82) before two consecutive wins against Cheshire Jets (88-79 & 109-105) made it five from five for Plymouth. The Raiders took this form into the BBL Trophy final against Newcastle Eagles where they started the two-legged affair at home.  The Raiders won 97-88 and took a nine point lead to the North-East. Despite 29 points from Jeremy Bell, Newcastle proved to be Plymouth’s nemesis again as the Eagles went on to win 96-80 and take a 184-177 aggregate victory to life the trophy at the expense of Gavin Love’s men.

Plymouth went on another run of victories in an attempt to topple Newcastle at the top of the BBL League table, picking up wins against Glasgow Rocks, BBL whipping boys Durham Wildcats, Leicester Riders and Milton Keynes Lions. With five games of the season remaining, Plymouth were firmly in the hunt for the league title but a mixture of bad luck and poor form hit them at the worst time of the season.

The Raiders finished the season with four defeats from their final five games, losing to Guildford Heat (86-81), Leicester Riders (96-72), Milton Keynes Lions (128-113) and Sheffield Sharks (102-99). Plymouth did manage to beat Worcester Wolves in the middle of those four defeats which afforded them the chance to finish fourth in the final league table and comfortably qualify for the end of season play-offs where, despite their late run of disappointing defeats, they were expected to do well.

Plymouth were paired with Glasgow Rocks in the quarter finals of the play-offs and with the Raiders having already beaten Glasgow three times previously this season, Gavin Love and his team were predicted to comfortably qualify through to the semi-finals. However, despite a first leg 84-79 home win, Plymouth travelled up north to Scotland with a narrow lead which proved nowhere near enough as Glasgow reeled off an 80-60 win to comfortably knock out Plymouth 164-139 on aggregate.

Plymouth Raiders’ season petered out in an uninspiring fashion but some of their performances earlier in the season coupled with two cup final appearances proved that Gavin Love and his side were no pushovers and with the right blend of retained players and new additions the Raiders could make a big impression on the BBL next season.

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