Rebels Come Close in an Overtime Thriller
The Essex Rebels took on the Leicester Riders in the WBBL Playoff quarter-final at the Morningside arena on Sunday.
Essex took a narrow win at home in their previous meeting in front of their record-breaking home crowd and were looking to take that confidence into this match-up.
As we have seen from both sides this season, they favour pushing the ball and playing an up-tempo of basketball, which is exactly what they did in the opening exchanges with Riders leading 9-4 within the first three minutes.
Getting high-percentage shots close to the basket was the theme of the first quarter as Swart connected on a sweet turnaround play for Essex.
The Rebels hung around as a tough lay-up plus the foul from Paxton narrowed the gap to 14-9 with the play slowing down, which favoured Essex as a jumper from Ashleigh Munns and free throws from Tia Freeman narrowed the gap to 18-17 with 2:31 left.
And the pressure from Essex paid off as a three from Paxton gave them a 20-18 lead, however, it didn’t last, as the Riders were able to knot the game at 20-20 at the end of one.
Essex stormed out of the gates in the second, taking advantage of rushed offences from the Riders, creating a 10 – 3 run and forcing them into a timeout early. Essex continued with some solid offensive play with baskets from Rebels’ Megan Haines, putting them in front 30-23.
Despite the timeouts from the Riders, Essex maintained their momentum, carrying on where they left off as a three from the wing by Paxton extended the lead to 33-25 with 5:14 left.
Everything Essex touched turned to gold. They were connecting on everything they threw up, extending their lead to double digits with three minutes to play and the Riders needed to fight back.
Leicester started to narrow the gap to as little as five points, but Essex upped their game again, a three-point play from Freeman and a jumper on the buzzer from Daniela Turner handed the Rebels a 46-35 advantage at the half.
Trailing by as many as 13 in the early stages of the third, Leicester found their groove, albeit slowly, but Essex didn’t let their heads drop, maintaining their double-digit cushion for the majority.
Going into the final quarter down 62-52, the Riders needed a spark to bring them to within touching distance of their counterparts.
They got that flicker of hope thanks to an 8-3 start to the period as Riders started to connect from the perimeter which narrowed matters to 65-60, as Essex coach Ross Norfolk call a halt to proceedings.
Leicester were building momentum, making it a one-point game at 65-64, as they looked to complete the comeback. The Rebels were hanging on, despite getting relief from a three by Swart with four minutes to play.
And with 2:30 remaining, Leicester’s comeback was complete as a score tied the game at 68-68, setting up the thrilling conclusion.
1:04 left in the final quarter, Oliana Squires gave Leicester a 70-69 lead with a tough lay-up. From there, they were able to get key stops before Squires again connected, this time from the elbow for a three-point lead with 27 ticks left.
Essex needed a heroine, and they got that from Claire Paxton, who drilled a three at the top to tie the game with 17 seconds to go, forcing overtime.
With nothing to separate the two teams with less than a minute left, Leicester held their nerve to seal the win from the foul line.
Essex battled and executed throughout but some huge plays by Leicester allowed them to shift the momentum. The game finished 83 – 80 to Leicester who now advance to the semi-finals.
The Rebels Head Coach, Ross Norfolk was proud of the team’s performance, “The women played with heart throughout this game and committed to the game plan. Just a lack of concentration at key moments hurt us and Leicester capitalised on this. Can’t fault the team’s commitment and it has been a pleasure working with this group”.
Essex were led by Sune Swart who had 24 points and 6 rebounds, closely followed by Claire Paxton who had 16 points.
The Rebels season is now over and the team looks ahead to the new season that will be starting in September.