New-look Ipswich debut in tough loss to USA Select

Coach Ellis pleased with first performance by his new-look squad

Ipswich Basketball welcomed USA Select to Copleston for a second straight season for what was once again an entertaining and tightly contested encounter (Images: Nick Winter)

Ipswich Basketball 94-99 USA Select
Copleston Sports Centre

Ipswich Basketball’s new era began with plenty of new faces, plenty of positives and a thrilling contest at Copleston Sports Centre on Saturday.

The curtain raising friendly saw new head coach John Ellis’ squad take on the touring USA Select, who returned after an immensely successful appearance last autumn.

This year’s contest was equally entertaining, as USA saw a 19-point first quarter lead relentlessly chipped away until a tense final few minutes saw the visitors escape with a 5-point victory.

“We were experimenting with a lot tonight.. [and[ we got some very positive results” – Head Coach John Ellis

“I am very, very proud of what we saw out of this group tonight,” said Ellis. “I can’t tell you I’m completely happy, because obviously we lost the game. But for a first game as a group, with four guys making their debuts for Ipswich Basketball Club and four more in their first senior game, we saw an awful lot to build from.”

Jonny Hall became a focal point for Ipswich on both ends of the floor

It was a shaky start for Ipswich, who turned the ball over repeatedly in the first quarter amid some early jitters. USA Select, who are playing a game every day during their month-long European tour, predictably started the sharper and capitalised with open layups to end the first quarter 31-12 ahead.

During the second quarter, the 200-strong Copleston crowd got their first real look at a team that is determined to entertain this season. New arrivals Rabi Rai and Quan Gill were the spark plugs, with Gill at one stage scoring nine points in under two minutes and Rai showing flashes of what was to come after the break.

Entering the second half still up 50-33, the visitors were given a shock when Ipswich started the third quarter on a 17-3 run behind three-pointers from 16-year-old Ben Winter (twice) and Jed Robinson, and the defensive presence of Jonny Hall, the centre increasingly asserting his presence on proceedings as the second half wore on.

The Rai-Hall combination led to ten points alone in the second half as the 5’8 guard and the 7’0 centre found a natural understanding in their first game together.

The pair finished as Ipswich’s top scorers in the game and combined for 38 of the hosts’ 61 points in the second half as they capitalised on Hall’s size advantage and Rai’s quickness to surprise their guests. Having been blown out in the first quarter, Ipswich would win each of the last three as the new group gelled offensively and turned up the work rate on the defensive end.

The game remained close throughout the fourth quarter with USA Select’s leaders John Lowe and Jamarkus Eison able to match Ipswich almost point-for-point but with the Copleston crowd now fully engaged in the contest, Ipswich would get within four again in the final minute on Rai’s three from the top of the arc.

Rabi Rai got fans out of their seats on more than one occasion on his Ipswich debut

The final thirty seconds of the game took over ten minutes to complete and included three timeouts, numerous fouls and a combined seventeen free throws, but ultimately Select made enough of their foul shots to hold on for a five-point win, 99-94.

For the hosts, Rai finished with 25 points and nine assists while Hall added 20 points and 15 rebounds. Gill and Robinson tallied 11 points apiece.

Ellis and his coaching staff enforced a very positive message to their squad after the game and enthused on the progress made in the first forty minutes of the season.

“You have to look at the positives we achieved over the course of the game tonight,” Ellis continued.

“We were experimenting with line-ups a lot tonight, and okay, we tried one or two groups that didn’t work too well.

“But we got some very positive results out of some of the line-ups I had wanted to experiment with, and the youngsters definitely made an impression. I thought Ben, Blake Read and Dan Ashby gave us real energy, and of course Jonny had a massive impact on the game.

“I’m now very confident that we are in good shape for the season ahead.”

Ipswich are gearing up for their fifth year in the National Basketball League Division 2, the country’s third-highest basketball division. The league contest kicks off on 7th October for Ipswich when they travel to regular foes Derbyshire Arrows.

Before then, Ipswich are in Patrons Cup action next weekend, when they host local rivals Essex Leopards at Copleston on Saturday 23rd September (5pm tip).