Plymouth Raiders went unbeaten in the BBL Championship during March and came up just short in the BBL Trophy Final, leading to recognition for Head Coach Paul James and emerging star guard Rickey McGill.
James wins the Kevin Cadle Molten BBL Coach of the Month award for the third time this season after March saw him lead Plymouth to three league wins, which extends to eight straight going back to February and including the first two games of April, as that good run has seen them climb the table to second place.
Most impressively, Raiders scored a big road win at Newcastle Eagles which initially helped them close the gap on their title-chasing rivals – who had been in second for some time – before over-taking them early in April. It was a strong performance from Raiders, winning 85-72 while scoring 58 points in the paint, led by 16 from former Eagle Mike Morsell, and holding Eagles to their third fewest points of the season, including just 31 in the second half.
Aside from that, there were two other double-digit league wins over the B. Braun Sheffield Sharks and Manchester Giants – the first of those live on Sky Sports – where Raiders showed character to emerge from half time team talks with big second half performances to overturn early deficits – something that they have continued to do since. They beat Sheffield 50-32 in the second half, and Manchester by an even better 52-27.
James’ team has a clear identity and style, as the league’s leading defence conceding just 75 points per game at only 41% from the field, also giving up the fewest points in the paint (30.5) of any team. They are also aggressive offensively, as by far the league’s leaders in free-throw attempts at 24 per game – five higher than the next team – and offensive rebounds with 12 per game.
Raiders have also come through adversity in the month, winning games despite injuries to key players such as Prince Ibeh, Michael Ochereobia and Chris Porter-Bunton, with captain Ashley Hamilton also returning to the team from an injury lay-off.
Even in their only defeat in March, to London Lions in the BBL Trophy Final, Raiders characteristically showed great fight to almost come back from a big early deficit, falling just short of a first piece of BBL silverware since 2007.
The catalyst for Raiders on numerous occasions has been American guard Rickey McGill, who has averaged an amazing 25.5 points per game in March to pick up the Molten BBL Player of the Month award.
That points haul has come on amazing shooting splits of 62% from the field – on 99 attempts, or 16.5 per game as Plymouth’s go-to man – as well as 47% from the three-point line and 82% at the free-throw line. He has also added five assists, four rebounds and two steals per game. Overall, he is sixth in the league in assists and seventh in steals.
He was outstanding in March’s BBL Trophy run, which saw him score over 30 points in both legs of the semi-final and the final itself. He was unlucky to be on the losing team in the final, scoring 31 points on 68% shooting, including nine early in a three minute third quarter spell to bring Raiders back to within one point from a 16 point deficit.
To get to the final, he scored 63 points over two legs in just three days against Surrey Scorchers, going 24-35 (69%) from the field in a pair of comprehensive wins.
In BBL Championship play, McGill scored comfortably in double-figures in all three games, and had perhaps one of his best all-round performances to round out the month on the road at Manchester Giants, with his first double-double of 23 points and 12 assists, along with four rebounds and four steals.
On Sky Sports, he was MVP of the Sheffield game after hitting 15 of his 21 points in the second half, including a big ‘and-one’ play for the go-ahead basket that changed the momentum in a previously tight affair.
A busy and important April is already underway for Raiders, with wins in consecutive nights over the Easter weekend, while they also face two South West derbies with Bristol Flyers and a clash with league-leading Leicester Riders as they chase the title in this last month of the regular campaign.