Surrey Heat 71 (22, 41, 60) v Worcester Wolves 69 (17, 32, 50)
The Surrey Heat, having won their first two games of the season, needed to bounce back after Friday night’s defeat at the London Lions. Standing in their way were the Worcester Wolves, very much the Heat’s bogey team of the last few years. The Heat were unable to get a win in six attempts last season and since ex-Heat coach Paul (PJ) James had taken over at the Wolves, the Heat’s record was an embarrassing 1-11.
However, for much of the game, the casual observer would think that the record was 11-1 to the Heat, such was the way that the home team bossed the game. Trailing 2-9 early in the first quarter, Heat Coach Creon Raftopoulos was forced to call a timeout after just three minutes. However, the Wolves suffered a scare when, as the players came back out on court, Alex Owumi collapsed and had to be attended to by first aid staff. Fortunately he quickly recovered, but could play no further part in the game.
Whether that had an effect on the Wolves players, it’s hard to say, but the Heat responded with a 20-5 run to grab control of the game. Chavis Holmes got things under way with a drive to the basket, before following that up with a jump shot off a Sam Cricelli screen, capping a personal six point run with a pair of free-throws. Martelle McLemore, getting the calls he didn’t on Friday night, added six points, all from the free-throw line, while Peter Simek added four points to the run. With Julius Joseph and Sam Cricelli scoring, it meant that all five Heat players on court contributed to the run.
At this point, the Heat led by eight, 22-14, but the Wolves scored a three through Arnas Kazlauskas to make it 22-17 at the end of the first quarter, and then he cut the lead to just two by opening the second quarter with another three, his only field goals of the game. The Heat responded with a 10-2 run, Caylin Raftopoulos finishing a fast-break to open up a 10 point lead, 32-22. The Wolves tried to chip away, but could only cut the Heat’s lead to nine at the end of the first half, the Heat leading 41-32.
The Heat’s dominance was built on their stifling defence, which they had shown during parts of Friday night’s game against the Lions. It probably helped the Heat’s cause that the Wolves were content to blaze away from behind the three-point line, with half of their shots coming from beyond the arc in the first half. That they connected on less than a quarter of them was testament to the Heat’s ability to get out and contest the shot. However, when the Wolves did go inside, veteran Lithuanian centre Arturas Masiulis proved a handful, regularly working over the Heat defence.
The second half started with the two sides exchanging baskets before a quick 6-0 run by the Wolves cut the Heat’s lead to four at 49-45, prompting another Heat timeout. However, order was restored by a 9-2 Heat run, triggered by captain Julius Joseph’s quick hands. After the Wolves had grabbed a defensive rebound, JJ stole the ball back and fed Martelle McLemore, who scored his just his second field goal of the game. Chavis Holmes then got the ball inside to Big Frank Holmes, who drew the defence before kicking the ball back out to his namesake, who buried the Heat’s only three of the second half. Martelle capped the run with another trip to the line, drawing a fourth foul on Masiulis in the process.
The Heat took a 60-50 lead into the final quarter, but they were still having problems with Masiulis. They countered this by going at him on the offensive end, although they were fortunate when he was called for a charge, his fifth foul, when running down court with Frank Holmes. With the Wolves big man forced to the bench for good, it looked like the Heat were home and dry. Instead, the Surrey offence dried up completely and the Wolves almost pulled off an improbable win. After Sam Cricelli scored with a pull-up jump shot, fast becoming his trademark, with 6:20 to go, the Heat didn’t score from the field for over six minutes of play.
At that point the Heat were still 10 points ahead, 66-56, and for a while it seemed that they wouldn’t need to score another point, their defence keeping the Wolves at bay. This was just as well since the Heat themselves went five minutes without scoring. However, with three minutes to go, the Wolves scored six quick points, four from the line, in just 25 seconds, leaving the Heat clinging to a two point lead, 66-64.
Chavis Holmes restored something of a buffer with a pair of free throws with a minute to go, but with the Heat in the penalty, the Wolves slowly chipped away from the line. With 25 seconds left, Sam Cricelli’s free throw put the Heat up 69-67, only for an unfortunate Frank Holmes to be called for a foul out on the perimeter on Arnas Kazlauskas, who sank his seventh and eighth free-throws of the game in as many attempts.
That tied things at 69-69 and, with the game on the line, Coach Creon called a timeout to put the ball in the hands of Chavis Holmes. He caught the ball out by the three point line, weighed up his options, then made his move, driving into the paint. With three seconds to go, he released his shot which swished through the net. The Wolves in-bounded the ball, but Albert Margai got his fingertips to a pass at half-court and that was that, the Heat holding on to win 71-69.
The Heat were led by Chavis Holmes’ 19 points to go with seven rebounds and four steals, while Sam Cricelli had a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds. Martelle McLemore chipped in with 12 points, going 8-8 from the line. Frank Holmes and Peter Simek shared 11 rebounds between them while sharing the load of dealing with Arturas Masiulis on defence.
The Wolves were led by Masiulis’ 18 points to go with his seven rebounds, while the impressive Stanley Ocitti had 12 points and a game-high 16 rebounds. Arnas Kazlauskas chipped in with 14 points, while Carlos Fernandez added 13.
The Heat now travel to Merseyside for a cup-tie on Friday before returning home to host the Sheffield Sharks on Sunday, 14th October. The game tips off at 3pm at the Surrey Sports Park.