It really doesn´t matter in what gym Ricky Easterling has played in Germany the last 11 years, you can be as sure as Donald Trump thinks he is always correct that the Baltimore native of BG Karlsruhe has lit it up no matter what circumstances there were. In his six seasons in the Regionalliga with Saarlouis, the American had Michael Jordan consistent season scoring averages including averaging 32,3ppg and 34,5ppg in two seasons and averaged 29,0ppg each season. He needed absolute no kind of transition period when he moved up to the Pro B in 2014 with Saarlouis as he prompt led the league in scoring two years in a row and had a spectacular streak of scoring in double figures in 55 of 56 games as he dominated the Pro B like he did in the Regionalliga. This season the guy who´s middle name could be Mr mid distance as he is as lethal from anywhere form the mid distance the way Anthony Davis is in the paint doesn´t roam around on offense as freely as his days with Saarlouis mainly because BG Karlsruhe have many more viable scoring options. Currently his Pro B scoring in double figures streak is 70 out of 74 times and not only was he and BG Karlsruhe coming off a huge win against city rival PS Karlsruhe, but the American was returning back to a special stomping ground as in the last two seasons he shot out the lights connecting for 36 and 31 points and also had a massive game years before in the Regionalliga against Eintracht Frankfurt. This time however the Fraport Skyliners Juniors not only had Easterling under control limiting him to a hard to believe 6 points, but were fortunate to come out alive with a grind out 66-63 victory.
After the game the usual soft voice of Easterling sounded more like that of an elderly gentleman as the Baltimore native seemed a bit broken and was trying to reflect on his return back to an old stomping ground. “Frankfurt really had me under control tonight. I give a lot of credit to them as they really knew how to come off the screen and roll and slow me down. I am now 1-2 in the Pro B in this gym. It is not as good as I would like, but I am just thankful to get that opportunity to play here again. Stats are fine and dandy, but I am just happy to be able to play and get a win here and there”, smiled ex Saarlouis guard Ricky Easterling.
The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were playing good basketball having won three of their last four games and were coming off a huge win against top team ScanPlus Baskets Elchlingen and continued their hot streak winning their fourth game in their last five games. Despite having everyone on board including four players that had played in the crushing 72-52 Champions League loss in Turkey 24 hours earlier, the club struggled to a grind out win, but everyone knows that in the game of basketball a win is a win no matter how they come. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors relied on routine and experience in crunch-time and grinded out the win. After the game, Mahir Agva was stretching and looking fresh that one would have never guessed he had just had a short 48 hour trip to Turkey and back, but his jovial expression on his face was one thing while his pooped body was letting him feel the after effects of the Champions League trip. “It wasn´t an easy game for me and the other guys that went to Turkey. We got back at 2.30 this afternoon and had an hour to get back down and then were on the court again. Our legs were heavy, but even if it was tough physically and mentally, we tried to blend it out. It was a real grind out win tonight. Both teams deserved to win. It wasn´t a nice game to watch and we were lucky to have won the game. Both teams didn´t shoot well, but these type of games happen. Key for the win was how we attacked the zone and how successful we were. We did a better job of one on one defense in the second half. Max Merz did a supper job on Ricky Easterling”, stressed Fraport Skyliner Mahir Agva. BG Karlsruhe played a hard fought game, but were missing that tad of luck in the crunch-time and were just overwhelmed by the non-stop weapons of the Fraport Skyliners Juniors. “This was a real grind out game with both teams fighting extremely hard to win. Both teams want to get the best position for the playoffs so defense played a big role. Defense wins titles and that was what both teams were focused on. We didn´t communicate as well on defense and on offense when our plays weren´t working, we went too much into 1-1 play”, expressed Baltimore native Ricky Easterling.
BG Karlsruhe got off to a blazing start leading 6-2 as Easterling started off showing why he is so thankful to high school coach Kevin Peiser for helping him develop his deadly mid distance shot making an easy one, 2004 Euroleague winner with Maccabi Tel Aviv Anton Kazarnovski scored on a lay in and ex Dragons Rhondorf guard Aaron Schmitz snuck inside for a lay in. Frankfurt wasn´t connecting from outside, so they went inside to ex Tuebingen center Mahir Agva who scored on back to back buckets to tie the game at 6-6. BG Karlsruhe had found their groove on offense and continued to execute at a sound rate as they also like Frankfurt banged the ball inside to 205cm Kazarnovski who won the 2008 Regionalliga with FC Bayern Munich making two lay ins for the 10-8 advantage. Frankfurt then sped out on a brutal 9-0 run to take the 15-10 lead. They took advantage of BG Karlsruhe´s weakness of transition defense as Max Merz and Niklas Kiel scored on the break and Agva hit a floater and Alaska native Travis Thompson hit his first trey as he was fed a lightening pass from Isaac Bonga on the ball reversal. BG Karlsruhe was able to put a dent into the run as Georgia native Kenneth Fluellen dropped two treys. Frankfurt didn´t allow that flash of offense affect them as Agva closed out the first quarter with two buckets as the Fraport Skyliners Juniors led 21-16. “We had problems hitting our outside shots. Had we had more success with that then we would have led by 10 points. We had problems giving up easy baskets inside. We had problems on one on one defense”, stated Fraport Skyliners assistant coach Sebastian Gleim. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were shooting 41% from the field and 11% from outside while BG Karlsruhe was shooting 47% from the field and 29% from outside. Frankfurt had the 12-19 rebound edge and two turnovers while the opponent had five turnovers.
After both teams had found a healthy rhythm on offense in the first quarter and been able to score on a regular basis, the second quarter turned more into a defensive battle as scoring was more limited. BG Karlsruhe had the better start and like to begin in the first quarter had a 4-0 run to cut the Frankfurt lead to 21-20 as ex Giessen 46er Anton Kavarnoski continued to wreck havoc inside as he connected on a hook shot and Berlin native Shawn Gulley who´s basketball inspiration is Dirk Nowitzki hit a beautiful fade away bank shot that couldn´t have been mastered any more beautifully than Kevin Mchale did back in the day. One thing the Fraport Skyliners Juniors have thrown into the faces of their opponents all season long has been that whenever they get threatened, Frankfurt always seems to have the needed weapons and versatility in their rotation to keep their lead ahead as ex Ludwigsburg German Stefan Ilzhoefer nailed a trey upping their lead to 24-20. Then Tampa Native Jeremy Black made a free throw and Easterling was his lethal self making a fake inside then making a stutter step and turning around for the mid distance shot to cut the Frankfurt lead to 24-23. Then German Tim Oldenburg and German Marcel Davis traded buckets but Frankfurt still had their nose ahead 26-25. BG Karlsruhe continued to be aggressive on offense and got to the free throw line twice as Fluellen and Gulley nailed free throws to dead-lock the game at 28-28. Then came the best example why the Fraport Skyliners Juniors are so deep and talented and can throw anybody at you at anytime as little used German and NBBL standout Cosmo Gruehn scored inside after Agva found him back door and then connected on a trey sending his team into half-time with the 33-28 lead. “Frankfurt weren´t aggressive enough at both ends of the court and were too passive against their zone. It was refreshing to see Cosmo Gruehn come in at the end and give the team that energy with two baskets. He has been playing great the last week in the Oberliga and NBBL. He gave a big spark from the bench”, stressed Sebastian Gleim. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were shooting 37% from the field and 20% from the three point line while BG Karlsruhe was shooting 42% from the field and 18% from the three point line. BG Karlsruhe had the 20-17 rebound lead, but 10 turnovers while Frankfurt had seven turnovers.
In the third quarter the Fraport Skyliners Juniors made adjustments fixing their offense against the BG Karlsruhe zone and stepping up their defense on the 1-1 situations. 2014 NBBL rookie of the year Niklas Kiel scored in bunches leading off the third quarter getting a pass from Agva and then hitting free throws as Frankfurt extended their lead to 37-28. Ex Lich forward Shawn Gulley kept BG Karlsruhe in the game with two lay ins, but the team couldn´t make any ground as the Fraport Skyliners Juniors now were executing at a better rate against the BG Karlsruhe zone as Ilzhoefer hit a jumper and runner for the 41-32 and seemed to be breaking away slowly. However BG Karlsruhe continued to chip away and fight and claw back going on a 5-0 run to cut the Frankfurt lead to 41-37. Gulley continued to be a menace inside getting a lay up and free throws as his athleticism proved to be off the charts. After Thompson and Black traded baskets, Frankfurt closed out the third quarter with a forceful 5-0 run as a quiet Garai Zeeb drilled home a three pointer as if it was the easiest thing as his calmness from downtown was scary and Kiel hit free throws as the Fraport Skyliners Juniors led 48-39 after 30 minutes. “Our goal in the third quarter was to get the ball more into the high post and attack the zone better. We didn´t want to focus too much on outside shooting but just get the ball inside to Niklas Kiel”, stressed Mahir Agva, “Frankfurt were more aggressive against our zone. We switched up our defense going straight to man and doing some traps and it worked for a while”, stressed Ricky Easterling. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors shot 35% from the field and 19% from the parking lot while BG Karlsruhe shot 39% from the field and 13% from the parking lot. Both teams had 29 rebounds, but BG Karlsruhe had coughed up the ball 17 times and Frankfurt only 11 times.
In the fourth quarter, BG Karlsruhe made a comeback and were able to bring it to the last play as they continued to fight and never give up, but the aggressive Frankfurt defense at the end was too much for BG Karlsruhe. BG Karlsruhe stopped the momentum of Frankfurt from the end of the third quarter and raced out on a harsh 7-0 run cutting the Frankfurt lead to 48-46. In the run, BG Karlsruhe played team basketball as three different players scored as Kazarnovski scored inside again, Easterling made his trademark mid distance shot and Davis nailed a three as the few BG Karlsruhe fans that had made the trip were going nuts. Frankfurt had lost their rhythm on offense while BG Karlsruhe was playing fine team basketball and sharing the basketball the way it should be. After a Thompson bucket, it was Kazarnovski that hit another running hook shot to cut the Frankfurt lead to 53-50. Frankfurt then broke out on a 4-0 run and seemed they might cruise to the victory extending their lead to 57-50 as Merz went coast to coast for the pretty lay in and Tim Oldenburg buried a 25 footer, but BG Karlsruhe never had their heads in the sand. They then grinded out a hard 9-1 run to regain the lead 59-58 as they battled and clawed themselves to the free throw line as Kazarnovski got their twice. However the big energizer in this faze was German/American Shawn Gulley who continues to play with a huge chip on his shoulder. After never finding a real home in Rostock and Lich, he has really come to life with BG Karlsruhe and Plays every game the way you should playing as if it was his last always sensing the need to prove himself over and over. He was huge in the latter half of the run getting a lay in, free throw and then producing the steal and coast to coast run and two handed throw down. “Gulley is a very good player. He is always the last to leave the gym. He always wants to get better and win. I am very proud of how he has played with us. He was instrumental in our come back at the end”, stressed Ricky Easterling. Thompson got Frankfurt the lead back with free throws and 60-59 lead, but Gulley tied the score at 60-60 with one free throw. Oldenburg then muscled home a tip in for the 62-60 Frankfurt advantage, but with 30 seconds to go Kazarnovski dropped a fierce three pointer showing nothing but net as BG Karlsruhe stole the lead back 63-62 with 18 seconds remaining. Thompson then supplied the heroics as he fooled everyone not executing on one of his typical three point bombs, but winning the game with a hard acrobatic penetration lay in in traffic that showed he was even more athletic than anyone had ever known. BG Karlsruhe had one last possession with 18 seconds to play, but threw the ball away. Nikals Kiel iced the win with free throws. “Thompson is more of a shooter, but finished nicely inside surprising everyone. He wanted to show responsibility and that is why we signed him. We defended well on the last play forcing the turnover”, stated Mahir Agva. “We gave up 14 offensive rebounds and had 20 turnovers. That was why we lost”, stressed BG Karlsruhe head coach Jibril Hodges. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors were led by Travis Thompson with 14 points. Niklas Kiel and Mahir Agva added 10 points apiece. BG Karlsruhe were led by Anton Kazarnovski with 17 points. Shawn Gulley added 16 points and Kenneth Fluellen had 10 points. The Fraport Skyliners Juniors shot 35% from the field and 16% from outside while BG Karlsruhe shot 43% from the field and 20% from outside. Frankfurt won the rebound edge 37-36 and had 14 turnovers and BG Karlsruhe had 20 turnovers.