THE Essex Pirates have begun their inaugural British Basketball League campaign with a thrilling 61-60 victory over the PAWS London Capital in front of a near sell-out crowd at Southend Leisure and Tennis Centre tonight.
The Pirates were leading 49-37 going into the fourth and final period of the game, but it was the visitors who came out for the final period the quicker as an 9-0 burst right at the start trimmed the deficit back to a single point at 49-48.
The home side needed something to kick-start them into action, and it was left up to 6'11" tall forward Alan Metcalfe to instigate a mini Pirates revival as they netted the next six points to take the score out to 55-48.
The visitors however were not to be outdone, and Santa Ataha helped the Capital into a further 7-0 run to tie the scores at 55-55 with less than five minutes remaining in the game. Both sides traded baskets, but the Pirates managed to keep their noses in front, much to the delight of the delirious crowd as they held a slender three-point advantage at 61-58 with 1:47 minutes remaining.
The Pirates lost two of their starting five (Pablo Rodrigo and Colin Sing) in a matter of seconds as they fouled out of the game, but the Capital could only convert two of the ensuing free-throws from the fouls to leave the Pirates ahead by a point at 61-60 with 1:14 left on the game clock.
The home side could not keep control of the ball and turnovers cost them dear as the Capital got the ball back off a Dean Williams turnover with 19.1 seconds left in the game. The visitors tried to run down the clock and get one shot off to win the game, but Leon Nziye-Munango's outside shot on the buzzer rimmed out to give the Pirates the first victory of the season and sent the home crowd running onto the court to congratulate their heroes.
Earlier in the game, both sides traded baskets throughout much of the first half and in a low-scoring opening 10 minutes, the Capital led 11-20 courtesy of a 12-2 run to close out the opening quarter, but the Pirates came right back at them in the second period, and some outstanding team pressure defence forced turnovers from the visitors and good execution at the offensive end of the floor saw the home side roll out a 17-4 burst to take the score out to 28-24. Four Capital free-throws in the final minute of the half however saw the teams head into the locker rooms tied at 28-28.
Both teams traded baskets early in the third period, but a huge three-pointer from Metcalfe instigated a 14-2 run, which was finished off by another three-pointer by club captain Dean Williams, to take the score out to their biggest lead of the game at 46-34 before the fireworks of the final period began.
Metcalfe led all scorers in the game with 21 points for the Pirates, while Ataha led the Capital scoring with 19.
At the end of the game, Pirates Head Coach Tim Lewis was pleased with the result and getting off the mark with a victory.
"It's great to get the first win under our belts, especially since these guys have only just started playing together,” said Lewis.
“I was really impressed with the guts and determination that they showed in those closing moments of the game. There are things that we have to improve upon, but a win is a win and it makes all the hard work worth while."
The Pirates now travel to the Guildford Heat tomorrow afternoon, tip-off 3pm.
The next home game at Southend is on Saturday 17 November when the Pirates welcome the Worcester Wolves to their home court.