Masser: Rossendale Raptors must improve to win title

Lancashire Telegraph: Rossendale Raptors stars Steven Gayle, Aitor Estrada and Josh Houghton Rossendale Raptors stars Steven Gayle, Aitor Estrada and Josh Houghton

ROSSENDALE Raptors coach Ken Masser has warned his side they will have to show a big improvement against Nottingham Hoods at Haslingden Sports Centre on Saturday (5.15pm) if they are to return to winning ways.

The Raptors were knocked off the top of National League Division Three last weekend when they went down 77-71 at title rivals Northants Thunder.

Masser has every confidence they will bounce back with victory at home to the second-from-bottom Hoods.

But he knows they will have to play better than they did against the Thunder, who moved into pole position as a result of their six-point success.

Masser said: “Northants played very well and were well coached.

“We weren’t at our best, we struggled to make shots at crunch times and Northants were good value for the win.

“We need to play better as a team and play with more confidence.

“If we can do that I’m sure we’ll bounce back on Saturday.”

Thunder also won the reverse clash between the teams in November 97-93.

And they made a storming start to this time around as the Raptors showed side effects of the four-hour drive.

But the visitors were awoken from their slumber by Steven Gayle.

He hit five first-half three-pointers while Papis Samb also impressed as the Raptors took a 43-36 lead into the break.

The hosts responded in the third quarter with a huge run of points that swung the game in their favour.

Such was the Raptors’ inability to deal with the strength and athleticism of the Thunder forwards – who dominated around the basket – they found themselves 10 points behind going into the fourth quarter.

But to their credit Masser’s men refused to throw in the towel and an impressive run of 13 points without reply saw them go back in front.

The Thunder, however, then launched a fight back of their own.

They went to the inside game, made their free-throw attempts and piled the pressure on key man Gayle.

That meant the Raptors – who failed to convert their opportunities – went scoreless for the final three minutes, condemning them to a disappointing defeat.

But the Raptors’ destiny remains in their own hands as six wins from their final six matches of the season will guarantee promotion to Division Two.

Meanwhile, British Basketball has been stripped of all Olympic funding after failing to meet its targets, UK Sport has announced.

The sport had won a reprieve last year but neither the men’s nor women’s team succeeded in meeting the target of qualifying for the world championships.

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