Loughborough Riders 78-77 Ipswich Basketball
WNBL Division I
Loughborough University Sports Complex
A last-second basket by Makana Stone denied Ipswich a memorable comeback win on Saturday, resulting in the Suffolk side’s first defeat of 2020.
Ipswich had fought back from a 14-point deficit over the last 15 minutes of the game, withstanding a three-point barrage from home shooters Molly James and Robyn Ainge, who combined to hit eight of Loughborough’s nine second-half three-pointers.
The final 90 seconds saw no fewer than four lead changes, with Susannah Rafiu – returning from absence in just her second appearance of the season – the surprise star for Ipswich.
Rafiu twice hit go-ahead triples for the Suffolk side, but the first was matched by an Ainge basket and after Rafiu put Ipswich back in front, the visitors had a chance to ice the game. Harriet Welham’s three-point attempt bounced out, and Stone hit the vital, contested shot, off an inbounds play with just three seconds remaining.
Ipswich were able to create a last-second opportunity to win the game, but Esther Little’s attempt under heavy pressure was unsuccessful.
After a well-balanced first half, Ipswich had seen their hosts open up a double-digit lead in the early minutes of the second half.
Rafiu, who has not featured since the visit to Solent in early November, was introduced in the third quarter and immediately changed the momentum of the game with two driving lay-ups (including a highlight-reel spin move) and her length and presence on the defensive end.
The final quarter of a previously low-scoring affair erupted into a shootout between Loughborough’s James and Ainge, and Ipswich’s Rafiu and Little, the four combining for a remarkable 10 made triples in the period.
In the end, American scholarship athlete Stone, who dominated the low-post game with 20 points and 21 rebounds, made the decisive score to end the contest.
“Hats off to Loughborough, they were exceptional today,” said Head Coach Nick Drane. “Their mix of outside shooting and Stone’s inside presence makes them a tough matchup. They are as good as anyone in this league right now.
“I hope this result makes more people realise what a great league this is. We’ve never subscribed to the narrative that we are an invincible ‘superteam’. We go into every game knowing that we’re playing a dangerous opponent.
“Fair play to Loughborough, and we hope to bounce back as soon as we get the chance to.”