It seemed like ages ago when the Fraport Skyliners Juniors last played an official Pro B home game as one has to go back more than six months ago where they actually beat Lok Bernau 76-61, but didn´t return back home as they were unable to move on in the playoffs as they were manhandled 88-59 in the do or die game in Bernau thus ending their season. The loss in Bernau also happened to be the last games for some key players last season as sniper sharp shooter Travis Thompson went east to the Dresden Titans getting a more lucrative offer and will face his ex-team twice this season, Stefan Ilzhoefer was unable to make his breakthrough in the BBL with the Fraport Skyliners and moved south west to the Gladiators Trier and will attempt his mission back to the BBL with a strong pro A season, Rilwan Bakare went back home to Chicago and is waiting by the phone for his next opportunity and the team identity figure Tim Oldenburg who had been with the club since 2010 and gotten a few minutes in the BBL, Eurochallenge and Fiba Europe Cup decided to hang up his jersey and retire to focus on his other career on the German police force. With the new season started, there were some new faces that fans had to get used as Isaac Bonga was still on board as he is continuing to develop into a top basketball professional, but some new faces included Richard Freudenberg who had won the 2015 NBBL title against Frankfurt with FC Bayern Munich and won MVP hitting his future team for 24 points and played 2 BBL games with the Bavarian side and last season had an uneventful season in the NCAA with St Johns as the club was stocked with too many shooters thus keeping him at the end of the bench. Another new face was American rookie Alex Fountain who takes the place of Bakare in the front court and played 104 NCAA games at Houston Baptist (NCAA) and as a senior averaged 7.3ppg, 2.4rpg, 1.3apg, FGP: 50.5%, 3PT: 37.3%, FT: 73.2%.Fountain didn´t suit up because he hadn´t been cleared to play by the league yet. Another new face was club Giessen who took the place of Lich who closed up shop and now is the official new farm team of BBL club Giessen 46ers. With some Fraport Skyliners like Quantez Robertson, Shawn Huff and Philip Scrubb on hand on break from a practice session gave support and witnessed a very entertaining season opener that showcased a tale of two halves as Frankfurt controlled the first half and then fell apart in the second half as Giessen stormed back winning 69-66 with great team defense. After the victory, Pro B rookie and ex Sacramento St. (NCAA) forward Nick Hornsby was all smiles after his monster game scoring 12 points, hauling down 10 boards, dishing out five assists and getting three steals. “We played aggressive and together and played with a lot of intensity and exceled at what we knew we were good at. We executed very well in the second half”, stressed Giessen rookie Nick Hornsby. For Frankfurt newbie and German veteran Tobias Jahn who played for teams like Hanau, Langen and Ehingen and spent 5 years in California in the NCAA2 with Cal Poly Pomona found some time to reflect why they were unable to play better in the second half. “This was our first time together tonight. We literally had our photo shooting and then our first game. We played ok in the first half, but in the second half us not knowing each other showed. We had many open three´s in the first half, but none more in the second half. When they figured us out in the second half, we were unable to find a solution. We didn´t collapse, but Giessen did a good job taking away our strengths and we didn´t find right decisions”, warned Tobias Jahn.
The Fraport Skyliners Juniors didn´t waste any time in the first quarter jumping all over Giessen going out on a quick 11-2 lead.
They demonstrated their fierce defense in the first three minutes stopping Giessen´s first four possessions before they finally got on the board. Frankfurt did all their damage inside as young German Armin Trtovac who is playing his third season in the Pro B scored twice inside, ex St Johns forward Richard Freudenberg opened up the scoring with a pretty reverse lay up and German wunder boy Isaac Bonga got to the free throw line twice connecting successfully. The Giessen American rookies Taylor and Hornsby were over anxious taking bad shots and other players had some easy misses adding to the big Frankfurt lead. The Americans then finally broke the ice getting on the board as ex S.Indiana (NCAA2) guard and 2013 NCAA2 champion Jeril Taylor scored two buckets apiece, but two timely trey´s from ex Bremerhaven guard Garai Zeeb kept Frankfurt in front 17-8. Giessen got some heads up play from 2013 JBBL(U-16 league) rookie of the year Bjarne Kraushaar who got a loose ball and made a put back and ex RheinStar Leon Okpara made free throws, but the Fraport Skyliners Juniors had the 17-12 advantage. “We started off very nervous and had a few good looks, but shot badly. Lischka had an easy miss. Frankfurt played good team basketball at both ends. Giessen couldn´t come to terms with the aggressive Frankfurt offense”, stressed Giessen 46er Marco Voeller.
In the first few minutes of the second quarter, the starting first quarter nervousness seemed to come back not only haunting Giessen, but also Frankfurt, but the home team were able to extend their lead to 21-13 as ex USC Freiburg German Cosmo Gruehn sunk a 20 footer and Armin Trtovac connected on a baby hook shot. Giessen remained in the game mainly because Frankfurt was too lethargic on offense, but Giessen couldn´t make much ground on offense because they made bad decisions and coughed up the ball too many times. With the two American boys on the bench, Giessen got some much needed production from ex Tuebingen forward Johannes Lischka who as usual was extra aggressive on the offensive glass making a tap in and Kraushaar finished with a floater cutting the Frankfurt lead to 23-19. However then out of nothing the Fraport Skyliners Juniors totally opened up the game going on a lethal 11-2 run to extend their lead to 34-21. In the run, the Frankfurt guns finally connected from downtown as German Konstantin Schubert connected twice and Zeeb once and Jahn made a lay in off a beautiful spin move by Zeeb who some how got the German the ball. Frankfurt was able to hold their lead until the break nailing two more three´s as Freudenberg and Zeeb connected for the 40-28 lead at half-time. “Giessen played ok without their Americans on the court. Giessen with too many turnovers that helped Frankfurt in their run. Frankfurt hit many three´s at the end showing that they have some good shooters”, stressed Marco Voeller. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were shooting 45% from the field and 41% from outside while Giessen was shooting 37% from the field and 11% from outside. Both teams had 17 rebounds at the break and Frankfurt had six turnovers and Giessen had nine turnovers.
The beginning of the third quarter looked very fruitful for the Fraport Skyliners Juniors as they started off the way they ended in the second quarter, but Giessen would retaliate and make basketball life extremely difficult for Frankfurt until the buzzer sounded after 40 minutes. Frankfurt started off hot going on a 6-2 run to extend their lead to 46-30 their biggest lead of the contest. In the run, Frankfurt got important production from Armin Trtovac who showed in the first game that he is on his way to becoming a consistent Pro B contributor as he finished with a hook shot after retrieving an offensive rebound, Freudenberg made free throws and Schubert snuck inside for an easy lay up after being set up perfectly from Isaac Bonga with the precise bounce pass underneath. However then came the turning point of the game as Giessen rattled off a 17-4 run to suddenly trail Frankfurt only 50-47. In the run, Giessen stepped up their defense playing very aggressive and trying to bother the Frankfurt offensive rhythm sneaking in zone defense or throwing a full court press which all worked. This was Frankfurt´s worst phase in the game with taking care of the ball as they produced turnover after turnover and Giessen snuck back getting vital contribution from their German players. Giessen played big and dominated inside as ex Hanau beast Marian Schick scored inside as did Lischka and young German talent Alen Pjanic. Back to back three´s from Kraushaar and Horsnby put added salt on the Frankfurt wound. Frankfurt didn´t relinquish the lead yet as a timely Zeeb trey kept Frankfurt up 55-52 after 30 minutes. “We have come out slow in the third quarter in other pre-season games and we wanted to come out stronger this time and did. Our defensive strength helped our offense. We communicated better on defense and were very aggressive while they stayed timid. We got a lot of support from everyone”, added Nick Hornsby. “Giessen got some transition baskets and played with three big men that hurt us on the rebound. They simply overpowered us on offense and defense”, added Tobias Jahn.
Giessen had the momentum coming into the fourth quarter and it didn´t take long until they would capture their first lead of the ball game. Giessen kept up their defensive pressure and stifled Frankfurt on their first four possessions helping them gain their first lead as Hornsby went coast to coast for the easy lay in and Schick scored inside getting Giessen their first lead of the game 57-55 and they would never trail again. Bonga finally scored Frankfurt´s first field goal of the fourth quarter at the 6.28 minute mark. Giessen continued to use their fine-tuned offense doing continued damage in the paint as Schick and Hornsby scored giving Giessen the 63-57 advantage. Giessen continued to bully Frankfurt in the paint and annoy them with their pesky defense with great switching as Frankfurt had hardly any time to breathe before the next Giessen player was breathing down their back and could hardly ever get into their sets the way they wanted to. After Bonga and Lischka exchanged free throws, it was Zeeb who drained another trey at the 2.23 minute mark cutting Giessen´s lead to 65-62. Just when you thought that maybe the Zeeb trey was what Frankfurt needed to break the Giessen momentum and come back, Kraushaar dropped a timely three at the 2.03 minute mark breaking Frankfurt´s back and extending the Giessen lead to 68-62. Frankfurt then had some big fortune as they crept back as Trtovac made back to back buckets with a hook shot and tip in and then with 21 seconds remaining, Giessen made a turnover on the inbounds pass and suddenly Frankfurt had real basketball life again. Zeeb went for the win and missed and then Frankfurt got another break with two seconds getting rewarded with the ball, but Zeeb made a beginner mistake that can always happen, but shouldn´t happen to a guy like him who is aspiring to become a regular BBL player as he coughed up the ball taking his eye of the ball and already setting and looking at the rim before he even had control of the ball giving Giessen the very hard fought 69-66 victory.
“We got the win because we played smart basketball. We didn´t take any bad shots at the end, had less turnovers and just attacked the basket. Lischka´s three offensive rebounds were game changing”, stressed Nick Hornsby. “Lischka´s offensive rebounds were big, but maybe we were a bit tired at the end. We didn´t lose because Giessen was that much better, but moreover because we had not all been together and first need to find each other. We functioned well in the first half, but in the second half when they took away our strengths, we were unable to find that second open player”, stressed Tobias Jahn. Giessen was led by Bjarne Kraushaar with 16 points. Johannes Lischka added 15 points and nine boards including six offensive rebounds. Marian Schick added 10 points. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were led by Gara Zeeb with 20 points, four assists and three steals. Armin Trtovac added 14 points and 12 boards. Giessen shot 37% from the field and 22% from the three point line while the Fraport Skyliners Juniors shot 38% from the field and 30% from the three point line. Giessen won the rebound duel 42-41 and both clubs had 17 turnovers apiece.