Around this time of year the last two seasons, the Fraport Skyliners were feeling that special rush of taking part in the playoffs again after having been idle for three seasons, but this time around the club was already looking forward to next season and off season dealings while the American players were already thinking about the first eatery that they will seek out at home when they land, but before that could happen there was still one last regular season game to play against Alba Berlin. It has been a season to forget for the Fraport Skyliners who were dearly missing Jordan Theodore from last season´s success and just didn´t have that consistent point guard with the killer instinct and after a better second half, were unable to compensate the poor first half of the season and the 3 last minute loses to Ludwigsburg, Bonn and Bayreuth denied them to slip into the playoffs. With one last regular season game before the long summer break, fans wanted to see their favorite players one last time, witness a few more crushing Mike Morrison dunks, a coast to coast sprint and dunk from Quantez Robertson and a lot of playing time for German wonder boy Isaac Bonga who seems to be slated for the back up point guard position next season, but after 40 minutes, it was Max Merz that fans cherished most in the game. Only 29 hours earlier, the German Merz had surprisingly announced his retirement, because of wanting to enter the business world and was playing his last professional game and helped the Fraport Skyliners dispose of 8 time BBL champion Alba Berlin 83-71. The 23 year old Merz played five seasons with the Fraport Skyliners and was one of those players that developed, but at a slow rate. He finished his last game steering 10 points, four rebounds and four steals in 30 minutes and was near tears at the conclusion. After he said his farewell to the fans, he was comforted by teammate Quantez Robertson for 20 seconds as he had to let it all out. After all was said and done, the German was content for his decision. “I thank all the fans and it was an honor to play for them. I don´t want to talk too much, because I will start to cry again. I have a lot of passion for what I studied and I feel that I can be successful there also. My heart will always be with basketball, but I know that I will have fun with my new job and be able to do things there that I wouldn´t have been able to do as a player. I know that I will keep coming into the arena to watch the Skyliners play”, smiled Max Merz. “I didn´t think so much about it being Max Merz´s last game during the game, but in the last seconds, it became more emotional since I did spend 4 years with him”, added Stefan Ilzhoefer.
Alba Berlin wanted to secure that fifth place in order to have a playoff date with the big season surprise medi Bayreuth instead of slipping to position six and having an opening round clash with favorite FC Bayern Munich. The 8 time BBL champion hadn´t been playing good basketball in recent weeks having lost three of their last four games losing to playoff teams and only being able to defeat the lowly Walter Tigers Tuebingen. Alba Berlin did a fine job staying with the Fraport Skyliners in the first half, but lost focus in the third quarter as their defense couldn´t contain the Frankfurt offense and were trailing in double digits in the fourth quarter and just couldn´t get over the hump. “This was a big game, but we just weren´t focused. It has been a difficult situation with the coaching change. We played ok defense in the first half, but they got a good lead in the second half and we just had to keep fighting back. We had too many turnovers and just weren´t prepared to perform the way we should of”, stressed Alba Berlin guard Gerald Robinson. The Fraport Skyliners had nothing to play for except for pride and they gave their fans a very solid performance closing out the season giving them something to smile about before the long summer starts. “We gave everything tonight. You never know if this will be the last game you ever play. Tonight it wasn´t about us, but about the team. We played hard and as a team and got it done”, stressed Fraport Skyliner guard AJ English.
4,900 fans wanted to see the last Fraport Skyliners home game as both teams were without their starting point guards Kwame Vaughn and Peyton Siva. The first 3-4 minutes didn´t look anything like a game at the end of the season, but more like pre season as both teams were making basic mistakes and missing easy shots. However after some of the opening minutes tension lifted, it was Max Merz who was provided with a sweet kick out pass from AJ English and nailed a trey. However Alba Berlin struck back quickly as they hit Frankfurt with a hard 8-0 run as 36 year old ex Hawaii (NCAA) guard Carl English supplied all the scoring power nailing two three´s and a pull up jumper for the 8-3 lead.
Both teams would go on runs as now it was the Fraport Skyliners who retaliated with a 6-0 run to regain the lead back at 9-8. In the run, Frankfurt got three points from young German talent Niklas Kiel and a trey from ex Auburn(NCAA) player Quantez Robertson. Then it was time for Alba Berlin again to go on a run as they scored nine points to extend their lead to 18-11. In the run it was two time NCAA champion Nils Giffey who supplied 5 points and ex FC Bayern Munich center Bogdan Radosavljevic who scored twice in the paint. However Frankfurt came back getting a trey from Robertson and AJ English free throws to trail only 20-16 after 10 minutes. “Carl English got them going early, but we came back through our good defense”, stated Fraport Skyliner guard Stefan Ilzhoefer. Alba Berlin was shooting 57% from the field and 75% from outside while the Fraport Skyliners were shooting 45% from the field and 43% from outside. Alba Berlin had the 7-5 rebound edge and both teams had six turnovers a piece.
The Fraport Skyliners had difficulty scoring in the first four minutes as Alba Berlin were wide awake in the passing lanes and got 5 stops. Only Florida native Mike Morrison was able to secure free throws while Alba Berlin connected on offense with a lay in by ex Holy Cross (NCAA) forward Malcolm Miller who was fed the tough pass out of the double team from big man Radsavljevic and ex Enisey Krasnoyarsk center Elmeden Kikanovic made a lay after getting the no look pass from Ismet Akpinar for the 26-18 advantage, Frankfurt finally got their first field goal at the 5.55 minute mark as Niklas Kiel broke free inside scoring to cut the Alba Berlin lead to 26-20. Frankfurt slowly freed itself from their offensive slump clawing themselves on a 11-2 run to regain the lead again 29-28. In the run, AJ English did a lot of damage scoring two field goals and also dishing a no look pass to Mike Morrison for the massive dunk.
Alba Berlin had totally lost concentration as Tony Gaffney threw an errant pass into no mans land that Niklas Kiel gobbled up and sprinted for the easy lay up and lead. Frankfurt was able to go into halftime with the lead, but it was AJ English that continued to be the offensive spark plug as he continued to have control making two runners. Kiel also connected on free throws as the Fraport Skyliners led 36-34 at the break. “We had too many turnovers in the first quarter. We did a better job cutting down on turnovers in the second quarter and put more pressure on them on defense which led to more easy baskets”, added Stefan Ilzhoefer. The Fraport Skyliners were shooting 50% from the field and 30% from the three point line while Alba Berlin was shooting 45% from the field and 43% from the three point line. Alba Berlin had the 18-13 rebound edge, but 11 turnovers while Frankfurt had 10 turnovers.
The turning point occurred in the third quarter as it was Fraport Skyliners identity figure and legend Quantez Robertson scored 13 points and led his team on a devastating 12-2 run to extend their lead to 48-36 and they would never look back. Robertson came out of the locker room on fire powering Frankfurt on a 6-0 run in 51 seconds. Robertson started off the third quarter with free throws and then Merz and Kiel steals led to easy Robertson fast break buckets.
Frankfurt then kept the pressure on as Kiel dropped a trey and made a free throw as did Morrison. Alba Berlin didn´t totally lie down, but got a trey from Robinson and got continued offensive consistency from Radosavljevic who scored inside and hit his bread and butter 15 footer. However the Fraport Skyliners continued to keep that energy in their game as Robertson nailed a tip in dunk and made three free throws while English continued to excel in the scoring department making an acrobatic shot and firing a bullet pass inside to Kiel for the dunk as Frankfurt led 57-43. When everything is working well, then even the impossible shots go in as English displayed. Alba Berlin continued to battle and not totally lose their footing as Akpinar stayed aggressive getting to the free throw line and scoring a lay in while Giffey made a 20 footer, but Frankfurt continued to hit some very tough shots as Morrison made an off balance turn around shot and Finish national player Shawn Huff connected over Giffey from Helsinki taking Frankfurt to the fourth quarter with the 64-50 lead. “We had a big start and defense was the key. Tez was like a machine. His quick start and tip in dunk kept us going”, stated Stefan Ilzhoefer. “Robertson attacked and got his team going. We made quick turnovers and were trying to regain control”, stressed Alba Berlin Canadian Carl English. The Fraport Skyliners were shooting 54% from the field and 42% from the parking lot while Alba Berlin was shooting 43% from the field and 33% from the parking lot. Alba Berlin had the 24-23 rebound edge, but 14 turnovers while Frankfurt had 12 turnovers.
Alba Berlin continued to not let go, but annoy the Fraport Skyliners with their come back attempts, but the 2016 Fiba Europe Cup winner hit big shots and connected from the free throw line to preserve the lead. Max Merz got the Fraport Skyliners going as he gave his team a 4-0 run with free throws and a lay in after gobbling up an offensive rebound as Frankfurt led 68-50. Alba Berlin fought back one last time going on a 12-3 run to cut the Frankfurt lead to 71-62. Kikanovic remained aggressive in the paint getting two scores while ex Telekom Baskets Bonn forward Tony Gaffney made a tip in dunk and Akpinar dropped a pretty step back trey. Despite a AJ English three pointer.
Alba Berlin was able to cut the lead to 10 points one more time as Giffey made a reverse lay up to trail only 76-66, but Max Merz closed the door on Alba Berlin personally leading his team on a 5-2 run to lead 81-68 as he nailed three free throws and put up the perfect alley-op pass to Morrison for that last season hard dunk. Carl English hit one more trey with a minute to go, but it was too little too late as Alba Berlin had a short plane ride home to think about their loss and how they would challenge the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg on Monday at home. “Our defense tonight was the way we should of played all season. We played team basketball in the last 25 minutes”, stated Stefan Ilzhoefer. “In the fourth they were playing free with no pressure and had it rolling and kept it going and we just couldn´t get over the hump”, added Carl English. The Fraport Skyliners were led by AJ English with 19 points, four rebounds and eight assists. Quantez Robertson produced 18 points while Niklas Kiel supplied 16 points and Mike Morrison had 15 points. Alba Berlin was led by Elmeden Kikanovic with 15 points. Bogdan Radosavljevic supplied 12 points and seven rebounds while Carl English added 11 points and eight rebounds. The Fraport Skyliners shot 48% from the field and 33% from outside while Alba Berlin shot 41% from the field and 38% from outside. Alba Berlin won the rebound duel 36-33, but had 20 turnovers while Frankfurt had 17 turnovers.