Coming off a strong performance last weekend against Plymouth Raiders the Taunton Tigers Men's team were looking to repeat that success in the final pool game of the Patrons Cup when they played East Kent Crusaders on Saturday. The Patrons Cup is a competition separate to the National League and National Cup and is available only to teams in Division 2. To begin with the Cup is played in a pool set up with the top 2 teams from each pool advancing to the knock out rounds (Semi Finals and Final).
Taunton were in a strong position coming into the game on Saturday having already secured wins over both Tamar Valley Cannons and Plymouth Raiders in the earlier pool matches. Despite loosing to Bristol Flyers earlier in the season the point's difference in the pool favoured the Tiger's more so than Kent who required a convincing victory to advance to the next round.
For the Taunton players and coaching staff however, there was only one outcome on their mind and that was to beat Kent and avenge last seasons National Shield loss and another defeat which they suffered in the league back in November. The Kent Crusaders, who are very similar to Taunton in both the way that they play and the professionalism with which they run their club have, in past games, always gotten the better of the Tigers.
The game began at a frenetic pace with the Tigers very quickly setting the standard for intensity and pace. An early lead was established with scores coming from fast break lay-ups, resulting from tough defence and back to back three pointers from guard Joe Andrews. Half way through the first quarter things started to slow down as fouls were committed and coaches of both teams called for time outs to try and settle their players. The slowed pace of the game seemed to suit Kent and enabled them to adjust to the Tigers intensity and close the gap in the score. Taunton finished the quarter with a narrow lead 20 – 19.
During the second quarter the slim lead which Taunton had established was quickly eroded as Kent tightened up their own defence and continued to get easy looks on offence due to poor defending from the home team. Frustration boiled over for the Tigers in the form of a series of technical fouls resulting from disputed calls with the officials, giving the Crusaders the chance to capitalise with free throws which they methodically did. It was during this period that Taunton Coach Ronnie Heath was ejected from the game after receiving two technical fouls dealt by referee Darren Bolt following an altercation between the two, regarding one particular ‘no call’ that the home crowd certainly considered a foul.
Two technical fouls meant that the Tigers head coach was unable to take any further part in the game and was forced to leave the gym. With the Tigers in disarray, playing unusually bad defence and unable to get any good looks on offence, Kent stepped up their own play, scoring almost at will and racing to a 46 – 28 lead at the end of the half.
The half time break seemed to do the Tigers some good and they started the second half strong with renewed purpose and intensity. Their defence was much improved and for a while Kent struggled to score as a number of steals by Taunton players, resulting from smart and intense pressure led to fast break lay-ups at the other end. Buoyed by the noisy crowd they converted each trip down the floor into more points. It was by far and away the best period of the game for the home side who, having been down 18 points at the end of the first half were now within just four points at the end of the quarter which finished 55 – 59 to Kent.
Unfortunately the come back was short lived and yet more mistakes from Taunton allowed the Crusaders to extend their lead once again as they began to hit outside shots and get easy put backs from misses. Having done so well in the third, Tigers appeared to run out of steam and were unable to keep up the play which they had used so devastatingly in the previous quarter. Kent closed the game out well with a solid fourth quarter performance which saw them fall just short of the 14+ point victory which they needed in order to advance to the next round of the competition. Final score Taunton Tigers 74 East Kent Crusaders 86.
Despite losing the game, previous victories over Plymouth Raiders and Tamar Valley Cannons proved enough to secure Taunton Tigers a place in the Semi Final of the Patrons cup where it is likely that they will play Leicester towards the end of January. It was a bitterly disappointing loss for the team and they will look to redeem themselves next weekend, when they travel away to Nottinghamshire to take on both Mansfield Express and Derby Trailblazers over the two days.