B Braun Sheffield Sharks 87-81 London Lions (31-22, 22-23, 18-14, 16-22)
Sharks – Nichols 22, Nelson 19, Koch 12; Lions – Zubcic 25, Huban 20, Best 13
Leicester Riders 91-73 Bristol Flyers (26-21, 17-20, 21-17, 27-15)
Riders – Loving 34, Jackson 12, Thornton 7; Flyers – King 24, Olison 18, Mahan 9
Newcastle Eagles 108-Plymouth City Patriots 96 (30-21, 31-19, 26-28, 21-28)
Eagles – Hamlet 31, Kennedy 19, Defoe 12; Patriots – Hassan 26, Simons 17, Bell 17
To kick off Hallowe’en weekend in the BBL, the London Lions got their biggest fright of the season at Ponds Forge thanks to a balanced attack from the at-home B Braun Sheffield Sharks.
Between the opening few games and more recent weeks, the Sharks look like a completely different team, and they look especially dangerous when big man Bennet Koch is able to impose his will. He started well, thanks to the physical play at the rim while getting hitting and making his free throws on multiple occasions to score eight points and grab four rebounds in the first quarter and a half. It helped the Sharks to an 18-point lead at one stage, but he wasn’t alone thanks to the output of Kipper Nichols and Saeed Nelson.
While Sharks fans were particularly pleased early, especially against a team that was 7-0 in the BBL Championship coming into the game, some were perhaps ignoring the fact that the visitors were still without Sam Dekker, as well as being without Ovie Soko, and Kosta Koufos played limited minutes in the opening quarters.
This meant they had to rely on Tomislav Zubcic, who was more than happy to pick up the extra shots in the first half. But the real calling card for the Lions this season, and in EuroCup play, has been the defence. Within a few possessions in the second quarter, Vojtech Hruban got to the line on a tough drive to the basket, hitting the layup and closing the gap to five with the free throw.
Sheffield managed to slow London’s momentum going into the second half, and kept a bit of breathing room between the two sides, but the Lions kept up the pressure. This included a beautiful set when Koufos received the ball at the top of the key with a bit more than five minutes to go in the third, he quickly floated it over the top to Zubcic, who wasn’t shy about going to work.
The Lions guards hunted Koch on switches in the pick and roll, but the Sharks big man did a solid job of staying in front of the likes of Hruban. But he did well to not be embarrassed by the flashy forwards and guards.
Sheffield weren’t the first team to take a decent lead on the London Lions this season, so even entering the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, a lead that floated between six and ten points never seemed fully secure.
The Lions defence can be swarming and Nelson got himself into both when the Sharks came out of a timeout with a good play drawn up but the point guard over-dribbled into the lengthy defenders. He turned the ball over and, frustrated, received an unsportsmanlike foul to close the gap to six.
Hruban got open for a long ball to close the gap 81-77, but Nelson made up for the mistake on the earlier possession, and in isolation, having driven to the basket all night, the point guard rose up in the mid-range and pushed it back up to six points with less than a minute to go.
The Lions came out of a timeout with a play for Zubcic, who had been on fire all game. Careful of his three point shot, the Croatian got downhill for a beautiful contested layup.
The Sharks went back to Nelson, who attempted a similar play but got his shot blocked. It landed back in his hands so he pivoted inside the paint as the Lions swarmed so he threw up a high arcing floater that bounced off the backboard and in, which pushed them back up to six.
A missed three from Hruban and a couple of free throws made by Kipper Nichols made it an eight point gap, but even with ten seconds left, the Lions have proven they always stand a chance. Aaron Best got open for a three after a timeout and Koufos got the put-back layup, but it wasn’t enough as the Lions were handed their first loss of the domestic season.
There were moments in the first half of the Bristol Flyers-Leicester Riders game in the latter’s Morningside Arena where either side could have run away with it. The home team went up by eight in the first quarter when Zach Jackson got in a groove, after hitting a smooth turnaround jumpshot.
But the visitors had plenty of confidence going into the game, as Bristol had only lost one so far this season, and they quietened Leicester’s proud home crowd in the second quarter. Tevin Olison tied and took the lead for the Flyers, and by the time both teams headed to the locker room, it was anyone’s game.
Going into the half, Marc Loving spoke with the broadcast team and said: “Bristol are playing really hard and getting some offensive rebounds, so we need to match their intensity. It’s a new half now, so we need to come out with refreshed minds and legs.
“They got some second chance opportunities on us, and if we’d handled that, we might be up by more than two points. We’re in a good position right now but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Leicester’s Patrick Whelan took a tough charge from Flyers captain Malcolm Delpeche early in the third, which forced Bristol to sit the big man, and Loving found himself with mismatches after Bristol’s Leslee Smith came on. Loving hit a three, then Nelson Henry landed a great pinpoint pass over the top where Loving towered over his defender in the paint for an easy two that led to a Flyers timeout.
Whelan was the man again a few minutes later when the GB international was called for a confusing unsportsmanlike foul that was a close call between a block and a goaltend. The decision fired up coach Rob Paternostro, who got a technical, but the crowd and Whelan started getting fired up and the guard looked like a one-man defence to force a 24-second shotclock violation.
The Riders built on this momentum. It never felt like a blowout from there, but going into the fourth, they extended a six point lead to 14 within a few minutes.
Bristol’s Olison wasn’t giving up the chase. His back-to-back threes were sparked by good defence as Conner Washington gave the ball away for the Riders. Excellent Flyers ball movement found Olison open again, but Washington settled things down and made up for the mistake with a jumpshot and his team collectively retained their composure and rebuilt the gap.
Loving caught up with the broadcast team again at the end of the game, and said: “We needed a victory. At their place they got the best of us. They played harder than us so we needed to regroup. They’re aggressive team on the offensive boards. That was key before the game, but in the second half we locked in on that.”
After hearing about the result in Sheffield, he said: “The Lions were undefeated so I know Sheffield with have a lot of confidence, so we have to go in with the same energy we had tonight knowing we can get it done.”
The marquee game to feature on Sky Sports possibly wasn’t considered a Finals preview, but it’s still early in the BBL Championship. Going into the contest, the Plymouth City Patriots were 2-2, with the Newcastle Eagles 1-5, to sit seventh and ninth, respectively – but that just meant both teams were hungry for a big win on a televised game.
It was a back and forth affair for the first few minutes as the travelling Patriots took an early lead, but once the butterflies settled for the Eagles inside the Vertu Motors Arena, they began to build a convincing gap at the end of the first quarter.
This extended to 10 after newcomer Justin Everett hit his first shot in the BBL – a long three-point welcome to the American – and another from Jermel Kennedy.
Plymouth kept plugging away, but there were several unforced errors, such as a travel from Rashad Hassan without much pressure and an opportunity to score from the low block, then Simons driving into a brick wall and handing the ball over.
Some good execution, and a time-honoured Darius Defoe steal on one end and a layup on the other create a comfortable 15-point lead with one minute to go in the half.
Newcastle’s Ben Mockford added some thoughts on the change of attitude for his team after starting the season with more losses than they want. He said: “We’re moving the ball, that’s what we’ve been working on all week, firing the ball from side to side. We’ve been focusing on sticking to our principles and not staying one dimensional in the ball screens. We’ve been working on ourselves all week. Plymouth aren’t a team to sleep on, so we need to make sure we play defence in the second half.”
The Patriots came out of the locker room aiming to avoid being blown out and went on a run. It was messy, but they were staying cool under the pressure, shown by Isa Brandon, who got into the lane, duked out two players and made David Cohn jump in the air, while Brandon pivoted forward for a layup attempt that resulted in a heavy foul.
The smart play only resulted in one point from the free throw line but it closed the gap to 14 after being down 21 at the half.
Newcastle kept pushing the pace, and Javion Hamlet was the man keeping the pace high and the crowd loud. A beautiful backdoor pass from Defoe to a dunking Everett nearly took the roof off Vertu Motors Arena. But Plymouth kept chipping away.
They closed the gap to 10 with two and half left in fourth quarter, but it had been a chippy affair, with plenty of fouls on either side. Last week’s All-Star 5 player Troy Simons’ frustration boiled over after hitting a one-handed put-back offensive rebound off the glass – he felt there was a foul and slapped the floor as he was getting up. It wasn’t hit first technical, so he had to leave the game, which led to Patriots coach Paul James getting a technical and the lead went back to 12.
The fight was still there from both sides, but the game would finish with that same gap.
Afer scoring 31 points, Javion Hamlet spoke to Drew Lasker on the Sky Sports broadcast and said: “We’ve been practicing hard all week so it’s good to come out here and see it put together. My teammates trusted me. The vets told me to keep playing hard and getting downhill.”
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