WORCESTER Wolves director of basketball Paul James says his team are there to be shot at after returning to the top of the British League table with a 95-80 victory at Manchester Giants.
James said: “It’s great to enter 2014 in the number one spot, but it means every side we play now sees us as the team to beat. We will need to stay focused and play our style of basketball.”
The victory sees Wolves go two points clear of Leicester Riders but James was relieved to finally see out the win, saying: “It was much closer than the score suggests. Manchester played hard for 40 minutes.
"It never really felt like we had the game fully under control, but we managed to grind out the win.”
The margin of victory did not do justice to the Giants who fought back from a double-digit fourth period deficit to put themselves in sight of a possible upset.
It was largely thanks to Wolves’ ‘big three’ of Zaire Taylor, Alex Owumi and Will Creekmore, who combined for nearly three-quarters of Wolves’ points, that the Manchester surge was repelled.
The opening period ended on a coast-to-coast buzzer-beater from Taylor for his side to trail by a single point at 23-22.
Great Britain guard James Jones committed a clumsy foul on Stefan Djukic as he opened his account and had to watch as the Worcester man confidently sunk the bonus free-throw to edge Wolves in front.
Stout Worcester defence slowed the Giants’ attacks, limiting them to only four baskets from the field in the entire second quarter.
In the meantime the Wolves had no such difficulties, widening their advantage to 50-41 by half-time.
By three minutes into the second-half it looked as if the contest could be over after Taylor and Creekmore showcased their understanding of each other’s strengths.
On three successive possessions, Taylor delivered the ball into Creekmore’s hands and stood aside as his team-mate finished the plays, boosting Wolves’ lead to 60-45.
The advantage held steady at 72-59 entering the last period, but five quick points from the Giants reminded the visitors that the victory was still not secure.
With seven minutes remaining, Manchester had reduced the deficit to single figures at 76-67.
A burst of action from Djukic was the final decider of the match.
First he was on hand to tip in a Williams miss and then stole the ball for another basket. Making two from two foul shots kept up his perfect record from the free-throw line and once more established daylight for Wolves at 90-77 with less than two minutes to go.
Creekmore led the Wolves scoring with 26 points, followed by Taylor and Owumi with 23 and 18 respectively. Taylor also served up 11 assists. Djukic fell just short of a double-double, tallying nine points and nine rebounds.
Next up for Wolves will be the visit of Durham Wildcats to the University Arena on Friday (7.30pm).