Worcester Wolves were unable to deliver a Christmas present to their fans when falling to a 74-81 home defeat against Bristol Flyers on Friday.
A fortnight ago Wolves swept Bristol aside 88-56 with a performance that coach Paul James hailed as their best of the season. This time he was left to admit that his side had not been able to cope with an opponent that had clearly learnt lessons from the previous encounter.
There was rarely more than a point or two between the teams until the final minute of the contest when Wolves’ closing shots missed the target while Flyers’ connected.
“Last time we put it on them, this time they were much more physical with us and we didn’t handle the pressure well,” said James. “We knew they would be hard and aggressive and that we needed to be the same back to them. We ended up in a game that became a lottery at the end, and a lottery that we didn’t win.”
The evening began brightly for the hosts. Backcourt players Marek Klassen, Ashton Khan and Danny Huffor all sank three-pointers in a 17-9 lead. But powerful Bristol forward Leslee Smith rose high to jam the ball down on top of Alex Navajas, igniting an 8-0 burst that drew the sides together by the close of the first quarter.
Trevor Setty hit back-to-back triples and then provided a clever screen to free up space for Klassen to do likewise. Smith continued his work close to the hoop for seven more points and a clutch of rebounds, leaving the scores still tied at 35-35 by half-time.
Recent signing Maurice Walker had occasional success when backing his way to the basket, but more often found himself quickly swarmed upon by eager Bristol big men. Setty kept up his output from distance and was joined by Andrew Bachman, but Flyers refused to fold, trailing by just 66-63 entering the last quarter.
Brandon Boggs typified the visitors’ spirit with a stunning leap and one-handed slam, beating his chest as he returned to the ground, putting matters at 70-70 with six minutes left. By a minute to go Worcester were in touch at 74-77, but would repeatedly shoot wide of the target and then have to endure Bristol securing the win from the free-throw line.
Setty led all scorers with 24 points and Walker maintained his double-double record with 15 points and 10 rebounds in a losing cause.
Wolves are next in action on Friday 30 December (tip off 7.30) when they welcome Plymouth Raiders to the University of Worcester Arena.
James stated that his team will need to be ready for another tough opponent, saying: “Plymouth are a team in rhythm right now. We can’t pick and choose when we decide to turn up. Everyone has to have the right mindset and everyone has to be ready to come and play.”