Surrey Scorchers 86-88 Newcastle Eagles (18-18, 21-18, 26-20, 21-32)
Scorchers – Lawrence 15, Busumbru 14, Martin 13; Eagles – Hamlet 23, Cohn 21, Johnson 20
B Braun Sheffield Sharks 64-71 Plymouth City Patriots (15-18, 24-13, 14-22, 11-18)
Sharks – Nichols 25, Koch 15, Delpeche and Glasgow 7; Patriots – Williams 23, Hassan 16, Bell 14
With many people preparing for long journeys to visit family at Christmas, the Plymouth Patriots and Newcastle Eagles got a couple of early BBL Championship gifts on the road, one week away from Santa’s extended travels.
Javion Hamlet led a big comeback for the Eagles as they took a two-point win down south, over the Surrey Scorchers.
And up north, Plymouth’s Antonio Williams scored 23 to lead a team effort that took down the B Braun Sheffield Sharks.
When the two teams faced off at the start of November, they took a four point win at Vertu Motors Arena in Newcastle.
December’s match-up saw the Scorchers come out with confidence in the first quarter, as they took a nine-point lead early. They did so from behind the three-point line.
Ryan Martin and Josh Jefferson pulled up with confidence from distance in the opening 10 minutes.
But Newcastle’s team travelled the length of England to Surrey Sports Park to avenge their loss at home earlier in the season.
It was Javion Hamlet who led the comeback in the second quarter. He took over and scored nine points in myriad ways – threes, pull-ups, a floater that tied the contest, and a tough layup driving through the lane to take a one-point lead before halftime, even if the home team took a slim lead heading into the locker room.
After a tough talk from Lloyd Gardner, his Surrey team came out scorching. A 9-2 run, led by Jefferson’s joyous jumpshots put the home side up 10 points.
Every time Newcastle’s Hamlet got going, however, his team closed the gap. They trailed by four after he went on a mini-tear on the third.
The Scorchers built a gap on a well-rounded team effort to close the third and start the fourth.
And just when you thought Hamlet was going to lead the charge again to make a comeback for the Eagles, teammate David Cohn did the honours.
Cohn got going early by rushing the lane to pick off a pass from Surrey’s Kyle Carey. The Eagles guard dribbled down court with support from two teammates, who attracted the attention of the Scorchers defenders.
This left Cohn all along on the three-point line, so he gladly made use of the space and drilled the shot from distance.
It was his layup a few possessions later that took the lead for the first time since the first half, and the Newcastle Eagles kept building on that momentum to steal a win on the road.
The Plymouth City Patriots tend to get up and down the court at quite a pace, sitting in the top four in the league when it comes to field goal attempts per game. Meanwhile, the B Braun Sheffield Sharks are among the most defensive and methodical.
There were times during the first half, especially the opening minutes of the second quarter, when the home team seemed happy to run with the visitors to Ponds Forge Sports Centre in Sheffield.
This included a handful of possessions from Rodney Glasgow Jr, who got ahead of the Plymouth defenders for a floating layup in transition.
But the Sharks’ generally controlled the rhythm of the opening 20 minutes, thanks to their tough defence and patient offence, and they finished the quarter on track to their typical 72.3 points per game.
This is why the Patriots were particularly excited when they got fast break points, especially when Elvisi Dusha stole the ball from Henry Sako in the second quarter.
It took no time at all for last week’s All-Star 5 player Antonio Williams to get down the court and receive the pass from Dusha for an open dunk.
The Plymouth guard duo let their opponents know about the easy score, which meant Dusha picked up a technical foul that gave Sheffield’s Kipper Nichols the chance to build a small cushion with less than a minute to go.
Nichols hit the free throws and then a driving fadeaway across the middle of the lane.
His teammate Marcus Delpeche then muscled a layup into the basket in the closing seconds for an eight-point lead going into halftime.
No lead is safe in the BBL, and the Patriots came out to start the second half with fire in their belly, and on fire from the three point line.
After Rashad Hassan hit a couple of opening couple of shots for Plymouth, Markedric Bell and Antonio Williams hit big back to back threes to cut an 11 point lead to just three within a two minute stretch.
The teams went back and forth for much of the third, but it was the determination of Sheffield’s Javion Ogunyemi with around 90 seconds left in the third that nudged his team ahead.
The big man was fronted, which made getting the ball into him difficult. It swung to the opposite side and he hustled over to receive a pass on the left block with the shotclock getting low.
Ogunyemi backed his defender down and rose for a tough shot that missed. He grabbed the rebound and four white Patriots jerseys collapsed on him. He got a shot up and was fouled, but the big man hit two free throws to take a slim lead.
To start the fourth quarter, it took more than two minutes for any team to score, as both sides increased the defensive pressure.
Plymouth’s Isa Brandon was the man to break the deadlock. He got out in transition and a Eurostep into the middle of the lane threw off the Sharks’ chasing defenders, who fouled him as the layup fell to open a three-point gap.
Dusha has built a reputation of being a clutch performer this season for the Patriots, and he got into the lane for a contested rising mid-range jumpshot to keep the lead.
On the other end, Bennet Koch has become one of the most difficult players to guard on the low post for the Sharks. He got into the paint with two minutes to go for a layup.
It was a two point game with a minute to go, when Brandon came up with a huge block on Sheffield’s Channel Banks Jr’s shot to keep the visitors ahead.
On the other end, Plymouth looked to Williams in isolation. The Patriots worked the ball around the perimeter and found the scorer in the corner. He drove along the baseline, pump-faked and got Banks Jr in the air for a foul.
A composed Williams got the layup and hit the free throw to take a five-point lead and the win.
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