WORCESTER Wolves are through to the quarter-finals of the British Basketball League Trophy after overcoming Plymouth Raiders in a nervy contest at the University of Worcester.
The game was tied going into the last quarter but Wolves eventually wore down their opponents in front of a large festive home crowd.
A triple from Michael Ojo got the scoring under way for the Raiders, with centre Arturas Masiulis replying for Worcester. Masiulis sank three more baskets before being forced to the bench after two quick fouls.
At this point Wolves trailed 15-10 with four minutes remaining in the period but it was his replacement Arnas Kazlauskas who levelled the scores at 15-15, and guard Alex Owumi, who notched consecutive scores, enabled the home side to close the quarter 19-17 ahead.
A double of three-pointers from Plymouth forwards Javarris Barnett and Colin O’Reilly helped the Raiders to retake the lead but Masiulis returned to the court to tip in a shot from Carlos Fernandez that was bouncing around the rim and then Wolves forward Stan Ocitti bagged a close range score to take matters to 25-27 with six minutes remaining in the first half.
Water-tight defence from both sides meant that nearly four minutes elapsed before recent signing Kai Williams brought the Wolves level at 27-27. Then with 18 seconds to go until the interval, Worcester playmaker Sherrad Prezzie-Blue converted a long-distance effort and on the next play stole the ball from his opposite number Drew Lasker to edge the hosts to a 36-34 advantage.
Masiulis and Fernandez briefly stretched the lead to 40-34 before the teams were once more tied at 43-43 midway through the third period.
Triples from Kazlauskas and Owumi were answered in kind by Barnett and O’Reilly, leaving the game poised at 56-56 going into the last ten minutes of action.
A neat wrap-around pass from Ocitti to Masiulis allowed the big Lithuanian to score and draw a foul from Plymouth centre Matt Schneck before a three-pointer from O’Reilly matched the scores.
When Masiulis dunked to tally the last of his 22 points of the night Wolves led 66-60 with five minutes left.
Raiders’ coach Gavin Love called a time-out and then saw Barnett hit five quick points to drag his side back into contention.
Wolves’ coach Paul James likewise called a halt to proceedings and finally saw his charges establish some daylight from the visitors.
Two triples from Owumi sandwiched a score from Ocitti which enabled Wolves to lead 77-70 with a couple of minutes remaining.
The game ended in unusual circumstances after a persistent series of fouls from Plymouth in a vain attempt to slow the clock and regain possession.
All of Worcester’s final 13 points were scored from the free-throw line and the Raiders were left with only four players on court by the hooter.
James was pleased to see the Wolves finally come out on top.
He said: “It was a good win in the end.
“It was a tight game initially but in the last quarter we played more freely.
“We got some stops and sunk some three-pointers and that was the difference.”
Looking ahead to the next round of the Trophy, James added: “We’ll now play either of Durham or Newcastle. Either of those two will be tough, but I’m optimistic.
“We’ve now had three good wins on the bounce and have finished the year really well.”
Both Masiulis and Ocitti registered notable double-doubles of points and rebounds. Masiulis notched 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, with Ocitti hitting 19 points with 11 boards. Owumi and Prezzie-Blue scored 21 points and 15 points respectively.
Wolves travel to Leicester Riders next Saturday.