Final Four misery for Royals
PUBLISHED: 17:37 03 April 2008 | UPDATED: 13:10 05 October 2010
By JONATHAN CLEGG THE East London Royals Under-15s saw their dreams of a perfect season shattered at the RAF Final Fours on a disastrous weekend for the club. All three Royals teams crashed out of the National Basketball League play-offs as the Cadets an
By JONATHAN CLEGG
THE East London Royals Under-15s saw their dreams of a perfect season shattered at the RAF Final Fours on a disastrous weekend for the club.
All three Royals teams crashed out of the National Basketball League play-offs as the Cadets and Under-14s also slipped to post-season defeats.
But the biggest casualty was the Under-15 side's semi-final exit at RAF College Cranwell in Lincolnshire.
The all-conquering Royals won every match to lift the Southern Conference title, but slumped to a first defeat of the season against rivals Manchester Magic, and then came up short against Spelthorne Atoms in the third place play-off.
"It was a disappointing way for the season to end, but the boys fought hard and have played tremendously well all season," said Royals coach Humphrey Long.
"To be in the top four teams in the country is a great feat and they should be proud of making it to the finals."
The Royals endured a difficult opening period against Manchester, who had also gone through the season unbeaten, and had eliminated East London in the post-season last year.
"We never got going," admitted Long. "People watching were wondering what had happened because it wasn't the normal East London style."
The Magic led 31-22 at half-time and continued to build an advantage in the third quarter before running out 78-51 winners.
"Manchester had two very good outside shooters and they just bombed us from outside," said Long. "That was the difference in the game."
Defeat put East London into the third-place play-off, where the Royals slipped to a controversial 86-69 defeat against Spelthorne despite a spectacular individual display from Michael Akinola, who almost carried his team to victory.
Trailing by 12 points after the first quarter and still behind by double digits at the half, the Royals took control of the contest in the third quarter as Akinola posted 12 points to bring his team within three.
"Michael's play was inspired and he really gave us a lift after half-time," said Long. "His driving and shooting was excellent and helped us get back in the game."
With Spelthorne's lead cut to 56-53, East London were within striking distance until a controversial refereeing decision swung the balance back in favour of the Atoms.
East London's Brandon Onyangunga collapsed to the floor after being caught by a stray elbow, but the infringement went unnoticed by the officials, who promptly called the Royals forward for travelling.
Onyangunga reacted by pushing his opponent in the chest, earning an intentional foul before being hit with a technical foul for continuing to dispute the call.
Spelthorne sank all four of the ensuing free-throws and, having retained possession, added a further basket to stretch their lead to nine points and effectively seal the game.
Teddy Okeafor grabbed eight points in the final quarter as East London attempted to close the gap, but they were unable to reduce the deficit.
Okeafor finished with 14 points and Dwane Allen contributed 16, including six of eight from the free-throw line.
The Under-14s also suffered from a slow start in their 55-71 play-off loss at Brighton Cougars.
East London trailed 27-15 at the end of the first period and Brighton extended their lead in the second quarter to go in leading by 50-27 at half-time.
The Royals rallied after the break, winning the second half by seven points, but they were left to rue their failure from the free-throw line.
East London made just one free throw from 16 attempts, and ultimately paid the price in a 15-point loss despite Joseph Odejimi's 23 points and Barry Bramble's 16-point haul.
The Royals cadet side also made a first-round play-off exit following a 79-66 defeat by Spelthorne.