The first months seemed to be more of a cake walk for the wiha Panthers as they needed no adjustment period coming from the Regionalliga to the German Pro B as they were mixing it up in the top of the Pro B standings as they were in a sense the little darlings of the season. But then in February the season took a sudden swing as the club ended the season with a very disappointing five game losing streak. “We all just weren’t playing well as a team. We were playing well defensively but offensively we were in a drought. We just couldn’t find ways to score and when we did have open shots we were struggling to make them but now we finally broke through and are finding ways to score“, stressed Wilkes-Barre native Rasheed Moore. Many felt like they would falter in a tough three game series against SC Rist Wedel where they didn´t have home court advantage and where long bus rides and 2000 kilometers of stress could end their season. Not only did it come to a three game series, but they were able to overcome the obstacles and win a nail biting third game. “The keys in the fourth quarter for us was to just stick together and trust one another while leaving everything we had in us on the court. Even when we were down by double digits we never panicked and knew we would find a way to come back. We just trusted in one another to go and make the plays that we have all year long. With that trust in one another we were able to make the plays we needed to make”, warned Rasheed Moore. The wiha Panthers now had a tough basketball date with the Giessen 46ers Rackelos who had an amazing season considering how badly they started losing seven of their first nine games, but then made a rapid 180 degree turn winning 12 of their last 13 games. Once again the wiha Panthers had no home court advantage and had to win on the road again. The good news for game one was that they had a lot shorter bus ride with 345 kilometers, but also knew that they would be in for a battle. Both teams put up an offensive show for 40 minutes, but the wiha Panthers had the better nerves in the last few minutes as Rasheed Moore was in clutch mode and executed properly on offense and got big stops on defense to secure the game one win on the road 92-86. After the win Rasheed Moore reflected on another tough victory. “We feel really great after this win. We knew that we had to get one on the road. Luckily it was game one. Now we can return home and close out the series. Key for the win was our energy and getting defensive stops when we needed them. Big was also scoring so many points which was the most we have gotten”, stressed wiha Panthers forward Rasheed Moore. Giessen played a very good game, but couldn´t play their game at the end the way that they wanted to. “We fought well after being down early. We had good ball movement and played as a team. But it was the small things that made the difference and cost us the game”, stressed Giessen German Tim Uhlemann.
The Ost gym in Giessen was filled nicely for a Pro B game and the atmosphere had a special feeling from the about 50 wiha Panthers fans who had gotten a chartered bus to catch the action in Giessen. There was no feeling each other out at the start as both teams connected on their first possessions as ex Rostock forward Bill Borekambi who was a menace last season against Giessen scored as did Giessen forward Thomas Tshikaya. But then came a radical change as the wiha Panthers played their game and really turned up the aggressive lever while Giessen had little intensity and watched get hit with a 15-1 run to trail 17-3. In the run the 2018 Regionalliga champion got 6 defensive stops and valuable production from Borekambi who supplied 6 points. The club also got support from ex Winterthur forward Hannes Osterwalder who used his whole athleticism on a transition basket, got a trey from 37 year old Lithianian Darius Pakamanis and a lay in from Moore. The wiha Panthers didn´t get overwhelmed by the Giessen atmosphere, but were totally awake and were aggressive at both ends of the court. They preferred to go inside and play transition than rely on the three ball. Giessen finally got on the board at the 5,11 minute mark as ex German national player Johannes Lischka scored and made the three point play. The game was one sided up to this point, but Giessen then did find their offensive rhythm and the game became an offensive slug fest. At first the guests could keep the double digit lead, but Giessen would get it to under ten points. Giessen spread the ball around nicely getting a three from American Jestin Lewis as well as from young German Tim Kopple. They also got key baskets from young German Tim Uhleman and two baskets from ex Surrey Scorchers forward Jordan Williams who would be a pain in the neck for the Panthers all night long as Giessen trailed only 31-25 after one quarter. “Our goal coming in was to play good defense, but a total of 56 points was a lot for the two teams. Sometimes the offense is just better than the defense. Both teams were making shots”, stressed Rasheed Moore. The wiha Panthers shot 71% from the field and 100% from outside and had 12 rebounds and 4 turnovers while Giessen shot 44% from the field and 27% from outside and had 4 rebounds and 2 turnovers.
The second quarter was a tight battle with three lead changes, but no team could escape from the other and develop a good lead. In the first few minutes, Giessen had top players Lischka and Bjarne Kraushaar on the bench and the wiha Panthers couldn´t take advantage of it, but rather had an offensive lull and allowed Giessen to come back as they relied on their three ball. Young 21 year old Germans Leon Okpara hit two while Alen Pjanic who lives on the rim and had 2 monster blocks hit a trey cutting the Panthers lead to 39-36. Williams continued to do what he wanted in the paint getting baskets while ex ScanPlus Basket Anell Alexis gave his team some energy with two baskets keeping the guests ahead 41-39. After a few lead changes, the wiha Panthers were able to recapture the lead as ex Trier guard Kosta Karamatskos nailed a trey and Borekambi scored inside for the 46-42 advantage. But the game was a severe game of runs as Giessen was able at almost any time shift up some gears on offense as they blasted off on a 8-0 run to gain the lead back 50-46. In the run Giessen continued to dominate in the paint as Williams scored twice, Kraushaar scored on a drive and Lishka dropped free throws. In the last few minutes the wiha Panthers came back getting big production from Moore and a jumper from German Leon Friederici who was aggressive from the get go as he had 8 points at the break as the score was deadlocked at 54-54. “They did a good job coming back. Williams got going and did a good job getting easy touches and baskets. We will have to do a better job on him in game two”, warned Rasheed Moore. The wiha Panthers shot 58% form the field and 50% from the three point line and got 19 rebounds and 7 turnovers while Giessen shot 54% from the field and 35% the three point line and got 11 rebounds and had 6 turnovers.
After the wiha Panthers had the lead back in the first few minutes, Giessen stole the lead back and kept it until the fourth quarter. Moore and Lischka traded baskets in the first few possessions as both scored twice while Osterwalder made a tip in for the 60-58 advantage. Giessen then retrieved the lead back going on a 10-2 run to achieve their biggest lead of the contest at 70-63. In the run Giessen played solid inside out basketball and got to the free throw line as Okpara added 5 points and a trey, Williams scored again inside and Kraushaar dropped free throws. The two main sour area´s in the wiha Panthers game in this phase was their inability to capitalize on their numerous offensive rebounds. It almost seemed like the basketball God was on Giessen´s side as the number of easy misses was a bit too much to handle and one couldn´t believe the misfortune. They were playing with such passion on the boards and wanted it more than Giessen, but they just couldn´t execute. The other big flaw was their inability to stop anybody in the paint. The number of easy buckets that Giessen got was also difficult to believe. The wiha Panthers didn´t lose their composure at the end, but actually hammered Giessen with a timely 6-2 run to trail only 72-69 after 30 minutes. The wiha Panthers got four points from German Friederici who has had a tough season, but he would step it up even more in the fourth quarter while Borekambi remained aggressive and sunk two free throws. “The third quarter was a game of runs. We did a good job countering their runs as well as possible”, stressed Rasheed Moore. Giessen shot 52% from the field and 32% from the parking lot and grabbed 23 rebounds and had 11 turnovers while the wiha Panthers shot 43% from the field and 21% from the parking lot and grabbed 34 rebounds and had 11 turnovers.
The fourth quarter remained a tight battle until Rasheed Moore took over in crunch time. Giessen got important production from Lischka with a running hook shot and a trey from Lewis, but Giessen couldn´t shake the guests. German Leon Friederici came up big remaining aggressive and scoring 5 points including a beautiful reverse lay up in traffic tying the game at 77-77. Friederici finished with 20 points, 2 rebounds and 4 assists while shooting 60% from the field. It hasn´t been the easiest of seasons for him, but he has saved his best for last in the playoffs. “He showed aggressiveness at the start of the season and tonight he showed it again. We need that third scoring option so badly”, stated Rasheed Moore. On the next three possessions of both teams the scoring went back and forth as Giessen got the lead only to see the Panthers tie the game again. A Lewis floater was countered by a beautiful Borekambi turnaround shot to tie the game at 79-79. Williams then hit a runner and Karamatskos made a tip in to deadlock the game at 81-81. Lewis then scored again totally catching the Panthers off guard with his brilliant speed with a lay in while Moore began his mini crunch time show with a lay in to tie the game at 83-83. Moore had been 0/5 from outside, but finally drilled his first trey at the 1,22 minute mark for the 86-83 advantage. But that didn´t last long as Kraushaar released a high rainbow to tie the game at 86-86. After an Okpara miss, Moore scored in the paint and hit a free throw for the 89-86 advantage. “Coach called a play for me, but then we had a high low for Borekambi, but instead he saw me and I made the basket”, smiled Rasheed Moore. Lischka then had a wide open trey to tie the game, but he missed and Friederici sealed the win with free throws. “We were patient at the end. We forced nothing, but let the game come to us. We got key stops, stressed Rasheed Moore. It was bitter letting Moore get that basket after we had to come back and had the lead”, added Tim Uhlemann. The wiha Panthers were led by Bill Borekambi with 26 points. Rasheed Moore had 25 points and 10 rebounds and Leon Friederici added 20 points. Giessen was led by Jordan Williams with 19 points. Johannes Lischka added 18 points and Jestin Lewis had 14 points. The wiha Panthers shot 44% from the field and 25% from outside and got 50 rebounds and 13 turnovers while Giessen shot 48% from the field and 30% from outside and got 28 rebounds and 13 turnovers.