Ipswich Basketball Club win last two games of the season to finish third again
- Credit: Archant
Ipswich went into the final weekend of the season in the knowledge that two wins from two would secure third place in EBL Division Two, a final league standing that looked very unlikely just a month ago.
With five games to play Ipswich were sitting in fifth place in the league, after back-to-back losses against Lancashire Spinners and Loughborough Riders.
The 20-point loss at Loughborough, the team’s biggest loss in two years, provoked some harsh words from coach Nick Drane in the locker room as the team looked to be facing an unexpected mid-table finish.
A season that started with such promise, with Ipswich one of the firm favorites for promotion to Division One, hadn’t gone to plan.
Four weeks on from that big loss and after four wins out of five, with the only loss away to eventual league champions London Lituanica, and Ipswich have clawed their way back to the same final league position as last season.
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The most impressive thing, certainly from people close to the team, is that last season was hailed as a fairytale season, finishing one place off promotion despite competing against teams with more experience in top-flight National League, better facilities and far bigger budgets.
This season has been considered a less successful campaign, but the team has finished with just one more loss than 13/14 and the same final standing.
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On Saturday, the team travelled to Surrey to face bottom of the league London United.
Coach Drane had made his message very clear in pre-game – start well, put the game away early and rest ahead of their tough second game of the weekend, against Eastside Eagles on Sunday.
A 9-0 start by the blue boys was the response and the team eventually cruised to a record 97-41 victory.
Sam Newman led all scorers with 17 points while Billy Smith collected a career high 16 to go with seven rebounds and Josh Johnson added 15, four rebounds and nine assists.
On Sunday, the team travelled down the A12 again to face bogey side Eastside Eagles.
Eastside are a team that are capable of beating anybody, but often can’t seem to get their strongest team on the floor together. #
Unfortunately for Ipswich, earlier in the season they did and the result was a shock win in Suffolk for the side from the capital, who have won only six games all season.
Ipswich knew that a win would secure that much desired third place finish and they again came out all guns blazing.
In recent weeks Johnson has got back to the form that he showed for much of last season, form that saw him named to the EBL Division Two ‘Team of the Season’, and the dynamic guard was again on top form.
Johnson had the Ipswich offence ticking perfectly, finding the devastating inside duo of Leigh Greenan and Tom Sadler for open looks while also finding dead-eye three-point shooter Newman time and again for the open shots.
Ipswich took a ten-point lead into the interval and would wind up winning the game comfortably 94-77.
Johnson would finish with an eye-popping stat line of 18 points, 14 rebounds and ten assists, while Newman was again on fire with 17 points, six boards and six assists.
Captain Sadler once more showed that, while he may not always go full-tilt in the easy games, he is 100% the team’s go-to player in important matches, finishing with a massive 23 points and eight rebounds.
However, it was the team’s all-round performance that had coach Drane heaping the praise on his players. He said: “Our ball movement, communication and chemistry has been better this weekend than it has been all season.
“Our leaders led and our role players did their jobs to perfection. If we can continue this into the play-offs it’s going to take a very good team to beat us.
“I’m delighted. The standard has been higher this season than last year and it shows we haven’t taken any backwards steps. For me personally this season hasn’t been the easiest and to finish in the top three after everything we have been through is good.”
Elsewhere in Division Two, London Lituanica clinched the title in emphatic fashion with the 119-77 win over Lancashire Spinners while London Pioneers beat Derbyshire Arrows, who have lost six of their last seven games, to pip the Sheffield-based side to fifth place meaning Ipswich now face rivals Arrows in the first round of the play-offs on Saturday (4.30pm at Copleston Sports Centre).