For weeks there had been a rumor circling around the Dragons Rhondorf that a new player would be arriving, but that took a while to happen, but prior to the RheinStars Cologne game the name Anish Sharda was presented as the 36 year old 188cm point guard was reeled in for his vast experience and scoring and playmaking something the team had been lacking this season. Sharda is in his 13th professional season and knows the German Pro B very well having played a total of 116 games with teams like Mainz, Hanau and TV Langen over the last years. He played the last four seasons in the German Regionalliga with ASC Theresianum Mainz and never averaged less than 18,9ppg. This season he was tearing up the league again as in 13 games he averaged 21,2ppg, 4,4rpg and 4,9apg while shooting a respectable 38% from outside. He demonstrated his scoring abilities best against Fellbach devouring them with 44 points and helping crush Tuebingen with 32 points. The Dragons Rhondorf went into the game against the RheinStars in 11th place with a record of 3-10 having lost four of their last five games and had come close at home the weekend before staying with the wiha Panthers for 38 minutes while the guests had a poor 2-11 record and were looking for revenge after their 77-67 loss to Rhondorf in the first meeting and it was also the home coming of Thomas Michel who had graced the jersey of the Dragons the season before. 750 fans were in a great mood and already prepared for Christmas as the atmosphere was great, but for Dragon Rhondorf fans there was no happy ending as they couldn´t win the game at the end as they had their chances, but just couldn´t execute with the final seconds waning down. After the game an upbeat Anish Sharda explained his first feelings about his new team and why the club couldn´t pull out the win. “It was a great atmosphere here tonight and I had fun. I have to thank the Dragons organization for giving me this opportunity. There is a difference between Pro B and Regionalliga, but at the end basketball is basketball for me. Despite the loss, I felt we did a great job bringing energy. The fifth foul on Riauka really hurt us. We could have been sharper on execution. There were certain things we forgot to do on the pick and roll. We have to be ready”, warned Anish Sharda. The RheinStars were thrilled after the win as they all rushed into the stands to celebrate with their fans, while Tucker Haymond just made the fan photo as he was being interviewed and was relieved that the team could head into the Christmas break with the win and he could go to Paris for the holiday feeling good. “We did a good job staying together at the end. We knew that if we could stick together that we would get the win. I felt we showed great team chemistry and played hard with a lot of energy. We showed great growth as a team throughout the game. It was a great team win”, stressed Tucker Haymond.
The game was very tight in the first minutes as both sides took a break and let it´s teams best two players Tucker Haymond and Zygimantas Riauka take central stage as they battled from outside and inside. Haymond came into the game shooting a disappointing 26,4% from the parking lot, but only a few days earlier warned that his slump wouldn´t last. “Shooters sometimes go through slumps, I started a bit slow this season from three but the last few games I’ve been shooting it well. I expect to be above 30% over the next few games I’m not worried ever about making shots”, warned Tucker Haymond. He stayed true to his words and quickly found a liking to the Rhondorf baskets nailing two trey´s while on the other end the Lithuanian double double beast Riauka was making the paint his stomping ground scoring twice while he also got support from Illinois native Kwam Waller who dropped a trey, but the RheinStars had the slim 10-9 lead. Waller showed the quickness that he still has at age 29 finding daylight and scoring in the lane cutting the guests lead to 12-11, but that didn´t last long as Haymond continued to want the ball and remained a shooting menace connecting on two more three´s giving Cologne the 18-11 advantage. The Dragons Rhondorf kept up their intensity and caught the RheinStars napping a few times on defense and got two buckets from Riauka who was unstoppable near the basket and also got a jumper to fall from Sharda who made his first field goal on his first attempt as a Dragon as Cologne still led 18-17. Despite the sudden burst of fire from the Dragons Rhondorf, the RheinStars stayed calm and continued to get good looks and closed out the first quarter with a 5-2 run to lead 23-19. They got two vital baskets from 20 year old Flip Kucic and a dunk from ex BG Goettingen big man Malte Herwig. Ex Bremerhaven German Bo Meister closed out the first frame with a hook shot. “They shot well and we fell asleep on Haymond. We were overhelping which led to the kicks”, stated Anish Sharda. The RheinStars shot 54% from the field and 63% from outside and had 8 rebounds and 5 turnovers while the Dragons Rhondorf shot 50% from the field and 17% from outside and had 8 rebounds and 4 turnovers.
In the second quarter, the Dragons Rhondorf captured the lead back briefly before giving it up again, but never allowed the RheinStars to lead by more than 8 points. Both teams got their offenses going right away, but the Dragons Rhondorf had the better start going on a 7-2 run to retake the lead 26-25. In the run Rhondorf got good contribution from Waller with a lay in, a 15 footer from big man Alexander Moeller and a trey from ex Ehingen German Bo Meister. The game became a game of runs as both teams suffered countless break downs on defense. The RheinStars struck back with a quick 11-2 run taking the 36-28 advantage. The three ball was flying again for the RheinStars and with extreme accuracy and three fell from ex Dragon Thomas Michel who has 14 BBL games on his resume with the Telekom Baskets Bonn, Benedict Van Laack and from Haymond again who made his fifth of the game. The RheinStars offense was very fluid while Rhondorf couldn´t get out on the shooters the way they would have liked while on offense they were suffering ups and downs. Waller continued to be active on offense getting a three to fall and getting free throws to cut the guests lead to 38-33. Even if Haymond was the big story for the RheinStars, it was new Slovakian point guard Vladimir Nemcok who was a bit in the shadow of the ex Western Michigan(NCAA) standout as he was a big reason why the RheinStars offense was cooking. His aggressive play was always a threat as he constantly in attack mode and one couldn´t let him have room to penetrate which allowed him to be a threat finding the open man at all times and he did. He had a poor shooting night at 1/8 scoring only three points, but had 8 dimes. One of his better assists was to Yassin Kolo for the 40-33 lead. Nemcok who last played in Spain in the Leb Silver league for Alicante showed countless times that he could find his teammates in all kinds of situations and his teammate Haymond was impressed with his play. “He is a smart player that is fast and knows the game well. He is a great passer, but more importantly what really stands out in his game is his ability to get us the ball in our hands so all we have to do is shoot without any preparation. He was a main reason why we were leading. He is a great addition”, warned Tucker Haymond. The RheinStars kept the pressure on down the stretch getting another basket from Kolo in the paint and a clutch three from Kucic for the 45-37 lead. Sharda closed out the first half with a difficult step back fade away buzzer beater as the Dragons Rhondorf trailed 45-40 after 20 minutes. “Nemcok was important for their lead. He was really good with the pace and on the pick and roll. We all had to help and it was tough”, added Anish Sharda. The RheinStars shot 48% from the field and 53% from the three point line and grabbed 17 rebounds and had 9 turnovers while the Dragons Rhondorf shot 50% from the field and 45% from the three point line and grabbed 17 rebounds and had 11 turnovers.
The Dragons Rhondorf exploded in the third quarter having possibly their best offensive 10 minutes of the season dropping 32 points and totally turning the game around. In the first few minutes both offenses were executing well as the Dragons Rhondorf were unable to pull away. Riauka continued to be the work horse getting two buckets inside and ex Telekom Baskets Bonn 2 guard Philipp Gruber also made a pull up jumper. The RheinStars Cologne continued to be driven by their shooting guard ace Tucker Haymond who didn´t only have a three point bomb to offer, but showed his Gordon Hayward like versatility scoring on transition and also sneaking inside and making like a big man and getting an offensive rebound and making the put back as the RheinStars still led 52-47. With the trey not falling as well the Dragons Rhondorf got the ball inside and were successful while the RheinStars at this point still looked like the better team as they had more options on the offensive end. But then came one of the turning points of the game as the Dragons Rhondorf exploded out on a 24-5 run to take the 68-57 lead. In the run, the Dragons Rohndorf were helped by many different players. Ex Speyer forward Yannick Kneesch had some big baskets scoring inside and showed his 48% accuracy from outside two seasons ago with the Bonn Regionalliga team was no fluke as he scored. The Dragons also got support from Waller, Riauka and Meister and got a huge three from Sharda. Rhondorf played with a lot of heart and upped their defensive intensity. Captain Joe Koschade was big annoying Vladimir Nemcok and drastically limiting his playmaking while the RheinStars totally lost their rhythm on offense. Rhondorf got added buckets from Waller and Moeller and led 72-62 after the third frame. “We executed better and did a better job on the pick and roll. Riauka was excellent and we did a better job not collapsing on Nemcok”, added Anish Sharda. “I was in foul trouble. It was a game of runs. We did a good job keeping our heads up despite their big run”, added Tucker Haymond. The Dragons Rhondorf shot 55% from the field and 47% from the parking lot and hauled down 28 rebounds and had 13 turnovers while the RheinStars shot 45% from the field and 48% from the parking lot and hauled down 23 rebounds and had 13 turnovers.
In the fourth quarter, the Dragons Rhondorf held the nice lead for three minutes, but then came the big RheinStars come back. Both teams offenses got going quickly as the Dragons Rhondorf relied on their three point shooting getting trey´s from Sharda and Kneesch while the RheinStars got a three from Michel and a step back jumper from Kolo who showed his shooting versatility in that if he can´t get in the paint, then he will beat you with his mid distance or even three point shooting as he arrived into the game shooting an astronomical 53,3% from downtown, but the Dragons Rhondorf still led 78-68. Then at the 7.08 minute mark, the Dragons Rhondorf were hit with their fifth team foul which effected them right away. The RheinStars went on a 6-0 run taking advantage of the fifth team foul as Kolo and Haymond sunk free throws. Haymond then scored inside cutting the Rhondorf lead to 78-74. The Dragons Rhondorf held the slim lead thanks to free throws from Riauka and Waller, but the RheinStars continued to chip away and felt that something good could happen in crunch-time. They weren´t wrong as Van Laack nailed a trey to be back only 82-81 and then at the 3.13 minute mark, Rhondorf was served a severe blow with the fifth foul of Riauka and Thomas Michel drained free throws for the 83-82 lead. “We made free throws and kept attacking. Our defensive intensity was very good. We also hit another gear with our energy with getting rebounds and getting on transition something we didn´t do in the first half”, warned Tucker Haymond. David Falkenstein tied the score at 83-83 with a free throw, but Cologne struck back as Michel offered a perfect shovel pass to Kolo for the easy basket and 85-83 advantage. Waller made a big lay in to cut the RheinStars lead to 86-85 with 44 seconds to go. After a Nemcok miss, the Dragons Rhondorf had 14 seconds left to win the game, but coughed up the ball on the inbounds play. Rhondorf then quickly fouled Nemcok who made one of two free throws for the 87-85 lead. With 11 seconds to play, Rhondorf had the ball and chance for the win with a trey or send it into overtime with a two point basket. Nothing of that came, as the RheinStars closed down the Rhondorf primary targets as they were left with Koschade who had to finish himself. He had a good look, but missed. Kolo then closed out the game with two free throws. “We keyed in on their top players and forced them to take a shot they didn´t want to take”, stressed Tucker Haymond. “Koschade made a read and had a makeable shot. It was a tough miss, but his defense on Nemcock was amazing”, added Anish Sharda. The RheinStars were led by Tucker Haymond with 25 points. Yasin Kolo added 24 points and Benedict Van Laack contributed 15 points. The Dragons Rhondorf were led by Zygimantas Riauka with 24 points and Kwam Waller added 22 points. The RheinStars shot 43% from the field and 46% from outside and had 33 rebounds and 17 coughed up balls while the Dragons Rhondorf shot 49% from the field and 41% from outside and got 36 rebounds and had 20 coughed up balls.