The fingernails were bitten down to the quick but after a positive weekend, the DBL Sharks Sheffield head into the Playoffs with renewed confidence and vigour. An emphatic win over Glasgow by 103-61 that confirmed that Playoff berth, followed by an equally confident display in Plymouth (98-82) set the side up for a challenging Quarter Final tie against Leicester Riders. Just ten points separated positions two to eight in one of the toughest BBL seasons in memory and barring that poor spell from late March, we could have been talking about the Sharks finishing much higher than their eventual eighth. However, the team can be reassured in the knowledge that they have taken Leicester close on three of the four occasions they have met and the thrill and unpredictability of two-leg knockout basketball means that there is everything to play for.
Win from eighth? It can be done. Just ask Leicester Riders, who managed that feat in 2000-2001! On top of a plethora of stats from this tightest of seasons, the Sharks win percentage of 54.5 was the highest ever for an eighth place finish.
Back in the here and now, what do this season’s previous four encounters with the Riders tell us? First up came an 80-75 loss on the road back on November 10th. The Riders opened up a twenty one point lead towards the end of the third quarter before the Sharks staged a remarkable comeback (not for the first time this season). Chris Alexander’s jumper made it 79-75 in closing stages but it was Leicester who toughed out the win.
The next game was an epic for the fledgling Freesports TV cameras. The game was tied at 76 and so went into overtime. A further five minutes couldn’t part the two at 83-83. Key plays down the stretch from JR Holder and Tyler Bernardini, who went on to score 34 points, saw the Riders take a 92-98 success. Both teams felt the physicality of the encounter but Sharks skipper Mike Tuck came away with an impressive 26 point, 11 rebound double double.
The one game where the Sharks were left wanting a little was the 75-64 defeat at the Morningside Arena at the end of February. Dirk Williams (21) was the Sharks main contributor but an even spread from the Riders, led by 16 from Pierre Hampton, gave them the W.
Who could forget the last game of the four? Heartbreaking for the Sharks but lauded by many as a terrific advert for British Basketball. It still beggars belief that Chris Alexander’s shot late in the game bounced around the rim in that fashion but again it was Leicester who came up with that 90-85 triumph and the BBL Trophy to boot.
As ever it is a team affair in Leicester. Holder (15.55 ppg), Hampton (13.96), Bernardini (13.33), Thomson (10.71) and Wright (10.68) keep the scoring spread. Hitting the boards are Tawiah (8.29), Hampton (5.93), Thomson (5.53), Walker (5.08) and Wright (5.00).
The Sharks compare favourably in scoring led by Williams (17.5), Alexander (17.16), Gachette (11.37), Wroblicky (10.59) and Tuck (10.32). Rebounding is taken care of by Wroblicky (8.69), Marsden (6.44), Tuck (6.12), Williams (5.47) and McKnight (4.52). Not forgetting Mackey McKnight leading the league in assists with 6.55 per game and Dirk Williams being just three off reaching 100 three point scores for the campaign.
Above all, this is the crucial point of the season. Win and you progress. Lose and the season is over. Simple as. Both teams need to leave it all out on court for eighty minutes as the lure of the bright lights of London await. Two terrific games are guaranteed!
The Playoff Final at the O2 Arena is the prize and the DBL Sharks Sheffield need your help to get there!
Our Quarter Final 1st leg takes place this Saturday 5th May with a 4pm Tip Off at the EIS Sheffield. For tickets go to:
The 2nd leg takes place just 24 hours later, Sunday 6th May at the Morningside Arena, Leicester, again with a 4pm Tip Off. The club received a limited number of tickets for this game – check with the office if any remain.
Both games to be live streamed via livebasketball.tv.
Swim on or Ride on? It’s time to #FearTheFin !
Image: Andy Chubb