Fraport Skyliners head coach Gordon Herbert has seen tough times in Frankfurt, but none worse than what he has seen lately as loses and injuries have pilled up and felt as badly as all the firework rubbish around Central Park and Times Square on New Years Eve. The Frankfurt walked wounded list that sits at the side of the bench looks like the waiting room of a hospital which has effected the play of the club as well as the many games in a short time has also given the team fatigue and heavy legs as Crailsheim noticed with the ever growing short shots that Frankfurt was putting up. With the Fraport Skyliners stuck in a three game losing streak, basketball life doesn´t get any easier as 72 hours after their ugly loss to cellar team Hakro Merlins Crailsheim, the team had to continue to do double duty as they faced top Russian VTB team Lok Kuban who came into the Eurocup in Frankfurt with a solid 8-4 record in the VTB and were well prepared having polished off Stelmet Enea 73-41 and came to Germany with a lot of self confidence with ex NBA player Dorell Wright and Jajuan Johnson and nice role players Jamel Mclean, Trevor Lacey and Mateuz Ponitka. A great winning experience would have done the Fraport Skyliners wonders as they waited for some of the injured players to return and were looking for their first Eurocup win in the second stage as they lost the first game in Ulm. The Fraport Skyliners looked very sharp in the first few minutes, but then allowed Lokomotiv Kuban to play their game and take a big lead and maintain it to the end winning 92-69. The many injuries, turnovers and simply real serious inconsistency plagued the Fraport Skyliners all night long. After the loss ex Georgetown(NCAA) guard Jason Clark tried to explain why his team was unable to put some kind of scare into the Russian team. “We got outgunned tonight. We started out well. But then we had a three minute dry spell and allowed them into the game. I believe that if we had continued to play the way we started, it would have been a totally different game. We have way to many injuries and turnovers. We have been talking about this for weeks. We need to find a way to get it done. We have to find the energy and motivation to get it done”, stressed Jason Clark. The Russian side won their first game in the second stage to move to 1-1 and for long lengths of time displayed excellent team basketball and execution that helped them get the victory as 6 players scored in double figures. After the win ex North Carolina State (NCAA) guard Trevor Lacey reflected on the win and in his tone one could easily notice that it was just another day at the office for the team. “We had a short rotation with some guys missing, but we played together for 40 minutes and executed well down the stretch”, stated Trevor Lacey.
On a rare Tuesday night for basketball only about 600 fans showed up, but those that did were quickly entertained as the Fraport Skyliners raced out on a 7-2 lead and were able to hold the advantage until the Russian side went on their run. American Jajuan Johnson who was drafted by the New Jersey Nets in 2011 and played 36 NBA games for the Boston Celtics got Lokomotiv Kuban on the score board first with a turnaround shot from the wing over two defenders. The Fraport Skyliners then really buckled down on defense closing up the paint and forcing the Russian side to very tough shots. The Fraport Skyliners were able to get into the paint area and were led by the kids ex St Johns(NCAA) forward Richard Freudenberg who hit a nifty hook shot and big man Armin Trtovac who got a rare start got aggressive quickly and made two buckets. He finished the night getting 8 points and hauling down 6 rebounds in 19 minutes of duty. “Armin started strong, but then was taken out and the Lokomotiv scoring boom followed. He had a lot of confidence, was aggressive and had the good position to get easy baskets”, stated Lich guard Jermale Jones. Frankfurt continued to up their lead with another Trtovac lay in and ex Chicago Bull Erik Murphy dropped a three which has become his trade mark as a player as the Fraport Skyliners led unexpectedly 12-4. Then came the turning point of the game as Lokomotiv Kuban went on a 12-0 run to take the 16-12 lead and Frankfurt would never recover from it. In the run the Russian side got vital offensive aid from 29 year 190cm guard Dimitry Khvostov who won the Eurocup in 2012 with BC Khimky Moscow Region) nailed two big three´s. Johnson also contributed 4 points and ex Alba Berlin center Jamel Mclean stole a ball and like on a few other occasions in the game made like a guard and went coast to coast for the dunk. Lokomotiv Kuban continued to put on the pressure and after Jason Clark had stopped the run with a pull up jumper, the Russian side went on a 6-0 run to lead 22-14 after 10 minutes. In the run, Frankfurt witnessed Mclean free throws and a pretty back door lay up from Polish national player Mateusz Ponitka who was fed the perfect pass from Khvostov which they would do again fooling Frankfurt again in the second half. “Frankfurt had too many turnovers. They were unable to make easy plays making the game difficult for them. They had bad rotations and bad one on one defense”, stressed Lich guard Jermale Jones. Lokomotiv Kuban shot 33% from the two point range and 50% from outside and had 7 rebounds and 3 turnovers while the Fraport Skyliners shot71% form the two point range and 25% from outside and had 4 rebounds and 7 turnovers.
In the second quarter Lokomotiv Kuban held on to the lead and were able to get a double digit lead and not quite shake Frankfurt off their backs yet. The Fraport Skyliners were able to take advantage of Lokomotiv Kuban getting stumped on their first three possessions and went on a 4-0 run getting baskets from Swedish shooting star Elijah Clarance and a pull up jumper from ex Auburn(NCAA) guard Quantez Robertson to cut the lead down to 22-18. But Frankfurt´s lack of consistency of taking care of the ball led to a quick 5-0 run for the guests as Mclean did like a guard again going coast to coast for an easy basket and 10 year NBA veteran Dorell Wright dropped a trey as Lokomotiv Kuban had displayed their best ball movement of the game up to that stand point as they whipped the ball around and got the best possible shot. The Fraport Skyliners weren´t going to lay down and die, but kept fighting and had their moments on the court as Erik Murphy made an offensive rebound and put back and Jason Clark stroked home a three to cut the lead down to 27-23. But that basketball is a game of runs also became true here as Lokomotiv´s many weapons just overwhelmed Frankfurt as they went on a 10-2 run to extend their lead to 37-25. In the run the Russian team was sparked by many faces as Wright nailed a trey from the corner, Mclean went coast to coast again for a two handed dunk and 33 year old 195cm guard Vitaliy Fridzon who played 5 years for CSKA Moscow and has 179 Euroleague games experience hit a great off balance shot. Frankfurt kept gnawing at the Russian side´s lead, but couldn´t muster much offense except for a Clark lay in and the rest were free throws from Quantez Robertson. Lokomotiv Kuban finished off the second quarter with a Fridzon runner who was 22 in 2007 when he played in Frankfurt the last time in a ULEB Cup game with BC Khimky Moscow and Wright made a turn around shot. “This team had some really good Russian players. They are all patient and never rushed anything. The whole team was in rhythm and when your feeling the ball and getting baskets, you get momentum and confidence for all”, stressed Jermale Jones. Lokomotive Kuban shot 50% from the two point range and 41% from the three point line and grabbed 15 rebounds and had six turnovers while the Fraport Skyliners shot 50% form the two point range and 42% from the three point line and grabbed 11 rebounds and had 10 turnovers.
In the third quarter Lokomotiv Kuban was able to shift another gear up and led by as much as 22 points as they were now in total control of the game. Dorell Wright got the first bucket waiting patiently for the ball which he got from Ponitka. You can talk days about the ex NBA players Wright and Johnson and also add names like Mclean and Lacey to that list, but ex Iberostar Tenerife CB Canarias small forward Mateusz Ponitka has to be also added to that list as a guy one can only take delight in watching as he is as versatile as they get and for every coach the guy you want to coach because of his unselfishness. It was rare a moment where he created for himself, but moreover always looked to find his teammates first. That example was seen on Wright´s first bucket of the third quarter as he was posting up and looking to take a shot quickly zipped the ball to the American who nailed the trey. Jason Clark had Ponitka´s name on his radar since years. “I played against him years ago when I was playing in Belgium. He played well tonight. He knows exactly when to attack and when to find his teammates. He is a very smart and unselfish player. He is a perfect fit for the team”, warned Jason Clark. Frankfurt got some buckets from Clarance a three from Clark, but just couldn´t get stops as Lokomotiv Kuban either got to the free throw line or got three´s as Wright displayed. Ponitka continued to create for his teammates, but was a menace on the back door cut hooking up with Khvostov as the Russian fed him the perfect pass. Ponitka also found Lacey for an easy bucket as Frankfurt trailed 63-44. Here and there the Fraport Skyliners got some offense in the form of a Clark or Robertson bucket, but it was all individual plays and nothing that involved any real kind of ball movement. After a 20 footer from Johnson and another Mclean skip through the park to the basket, it was the Frankfurt German kids that executed as ex Bremerhaven guard Garai Zeeb nailed a three and Trtovac made an offensive rebound and put back, but Lokomotiv Kuban led soundly 69-52 after three quarters. “We made shots and made stops. We executed better on offense and forced them to take tough shots”, explained Trevor Lacey. “We wanted to come out in the second half with the mentality that we had in the first half, but it just wasn´t there. We just couldn´t get stops. They put us in long closeouts and beat us with back doors”, stressed Jason Clark. Lokomotiv Kuban shot 60% from the two point range and 44% from the parking lot and got 24 rebounds and had 11 turnovers while the Fraport Skyliners shot 50% from the two point range and 45% from the parking lot and got 16 rebounds and had 15 turnovers.
Lokomotiv Kuban continued to shine in the fourth quarter being able to play their game while for the Fraport Skyliners, it was the Elijah Clarance show. The game was as good as decided and he helped polish up his stat table. He finished with 15 points and added 11 points in the last 10 minutes. Clarance is always in attack mode and one has to always be ready for that flight to the rim. Lokomotive Kuban began with a 5-0 run as Ponitka sneaked inside again getting a back door feed from Fridzon and Mclean looked like a guard for the seemingly hundredth time in the game as he finished with a finger tip roll in. Freudenberg then scored in the paint and Clarance delivered his first points as he nailed a trey as Frankfurt was back 74-57. After a Lacey pull up jumper, the Fraport Skyliners erupted for a 9-0 cutting the guests lead to 78-64. In the run, the Swede hit a pull up jumper, made a two handed dunk and a free throw. Clarance was in his element and really hit some nice and tough shots, but at times also was rushing and just trying to do too much which resulted in misses and turnovers. But he stepped up and took responsibility against one of the top VTB teams which surely helped his already high self confidence level. “When Elijah sees the ball go through the net, it helps his confidence. This game was another step for him. He is still young and still needs to learn exactly when to attack and when to find his teammates. It is still better to be aggressive than not being it at all”, added Jason Clark. After Clarance and Johnson traded buckets, the game might have witnessed the best play off the night. It happened on a fast break play which started on a Dorell Wright block on Garai Zeeb. Wright took the ball and made a half court bounce pass in Rondo manner and found Lacey on the left who served up the alley-op pass to Johnson who rammed it home for the 86-66 lead. Clarance gave fans one more wow effect as he hit a deep three off the back board. 18 year old Russian Alexandr Shcherbenev followed with his own bank shot. After a Marco Voeller turnover, 24 year old Stanislav Ilnitskiy closed out the game with a turnaround shot. “Clarance brought a lot of energy in the fourth and took responsibility. Unfortunately there wasn´t enough of that from the team”, stressed Jason Clark. “Frankfurt is a scrappy team and won´t stop until the 40 minutes are up. We did a good job finishing the game strong”, added Trevor Lacey. Lokomotiv Kuban was led by Jamel Mclean with 19 points. Dorell Wright added 14 points and Vitaly Fridzon and Dmitry Khvostov added 12 points a piece. The Fraport Skyliners were led by Elijah Clarance and Jason Clark with 15 points a piece and Erik Murphy added 11 points. Lokomotiv Kuban shot 58% form the two point range and 43% from outside and had 34 boards and 12 coughed up balls while the Fraport Skyliners shot 55% form the two point range and 38% from outside and had 24 rebounds and 20 turnovers.