The Nottingham Hoods fell agonisingly short in their quest for the Double as they went down 77-80 to Thames Valley Cavaliers in the Division 2 Play-off final.
With a huge travelling contingent of Merry Men, hopes were high for the League Champions as they took on fierce rivals Thames Valley Cavaliers, who had already beaten them twice this season.
The game got off to a stuttering start as both teams failed to find any shooting rhythm on the big stage, but it was Cavaliers who struck first with 3 minutes already gone in the game! Cavaliers struck again before Robinson finally got Hoods on the board with a big 3. Hoods continued to struggle offensively, but thanks to some fantastic defence they were still in the game midway through the quarter, trailing 10-14. Powell was doing his best offensively, but shots for the others just weren’t falling. Robinson picked up his second foul, sending him to the bench but Ballentine stepped up and made an immediate impact grabbing rebounds at both ends of the floor. But for every 2 points Hoods scored, Cavaliers were hitting 3s and as Powell’s shot on the buzzer rimmed out, Hoods were already up against it, trailing 16-24 at the end of the first.
The second quarter followed the same script as Hoods shooting woes continued, simple shots just not going down. Hoods started trying to force the game, rather than settling into a rhythm and the turnovers followed, which Cavaliers took full advantage off with their talented scorers. Coach Westley called a time-out to compose his men, urging them to drive to the basket rather than settling for outside shots. It worked, a massive pin on the backboard by Robinson, followed by back-to-back buckets from Ballentine brought the deficit back to single figures, forcing Cavaliers into a timeout. Despite a couple more blocks by Robinson and some fantastic hustling defence from youngster Nelson, the Hoods offence was misfiring throughout allowing Cavaliers to stretch their lead back up to 25-38 at halftime.
Hoods have usually been strong in the third quarter this season, pulling away from teams, but Cavaliers were ready and punished the offensive mistakes, with their scoring threats and actually ended up increasing their lead 47-63 at the end of the third. The travelling crowd were stunned but never lost their voices and ramped up the volume in the 4th quarter, knowing the Hoods needed them now more than ever.
The quarter started with both teams trading baskets, Watts and Robinson doing most of the damage for Hoods, but as Hoods shots started falling, Cavaliers were already in their rhythm and answered back each time. Midway through the quarter, despite the support, Cavaliers were controlling the tempo and answering Hoods baskets. Suddenly, the game was flipped on it’s head. Mitchell scored, Robinson scored, Slavik turned up with a huge block, Mitchell scored again and Cavaliers turned the ball over, 62-74 timeout Cavaliers. The noise in the arena was deafening now as the Merry Men sensed an improbable comeback. Watts then hot back to back threes, both from Mitchell assists and the deficit was just 6 points with 2.59 remaining. The crowd noise was unreal as every single one of the travelling fans was on their feet cheering and chanting. Cavaliers stopped the momentum with a layup, but Powell hit straight back and when the on-fire Watts took another long range, as it rimmed out, Robinson was there for the emphatic put-back dunk and Manchester was jumping. 72-76 with 1.35 remaining. Hoods had to foul and so they did but the usual reliable Cavaliers shooters couldn’t sink their free throws as the Merry Men did all they could to put them off.
With time running out and Cavaliers defence preventing the in-bound pass, Mitchell grasped the opportunity by quickly throwing the ball of a Cavaliers back, recollecting and scoring. Mestre then grabbed the steal and lay-up to bring Hoods to within 2 with 21 seconds remaining. Hoods had to foul again and again, Cavaliers struggled from the line, hitting juts one shot. Time-out Hoods. Coach Westley had the chance to draw up a play to tie to the game. The ball came in and was moved round brilliantly to find Robinson, under pressure the shot went up but hit the inside rim and came out. 2 missed free throws from the line opend the door for Hoods again, but it was Cavaliers who grabbed the rebound and crowd was silenced. Unbelievably, 2 more missed free-throws and the ball fell to Robinson with 0.4secs remaining. He tried the full court heave but it fell short and with it Hoods dream of the Double.
Captain David Watts commented, “We started too late in our fightback. Thames Valley are a really good team and we came out really flat with no energy. They took full advantage of that as a side of their calibre would do.”
Club Captain Bruce Lauder, watching with the Merry Men continued, “it’s a disappointing result but you can’t give a team like Cavaliers a sniff of an opportunity, they have too many different ways to score and we were punished. Couldn’t be prouder of the guys though, 3 1/2 quarters on the back foot to then come back as we did and put ourselves within a shot of winning shows the heart and commitment that runs through this team. The crowd, our Merry Men, were fantastic today. They have helped us all season and I’m gutted we couldn’t do it for them. It’s been an incredible season and the boys should be very proud of themselves. There’s a lot of home-grown talent in that squad and we are League Champions, playing be in Division 1 next season, we also won the u18 league, BUCS Trophy, reached a quarter final, a semi-final and a final in three different competitions – that’s not a bad season in my book!”
Stats Leaders below:-
Robinson 23 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 blocks
Watts 18 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 blocks
Mitchell 13 points, 4 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 steal
Powell 12 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block
Ballentine 6 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist
Full Stats available here
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