SHEFFIELD Sharks six match winning run came to an end last night despite a brave effort by Atiba Lyons’ travel-weary players against Newcastle Eagles.
The Sharks had won 78-72 on the road in Devon against Plymouth Raiders on Saturday night but didn’t arrive back in Sheffield until 4am yesterday morning.
And while Lyons and his players would be the last ones to make excuses for their first defeat in seven matches it was clear to everyone at the English Institute of Sport that they weren’t as sharp as they have been during an excellent March.
It was still a good performance in a good match between two teams who look like they’ll see a lot of each other over the next couple of weeks.
They meet again tomorrow night in Sharks final home match of the regular season and are currently seeded to be paired together in the first round of play-offs.
Lyons said: “Newcastle are a strong team defensively but we knew whoever we had in the home leg after the Plymouth match was going to be hard because recovering from the long journey and short turnaround was tough.
“I thought we came out and made some physical mistakes, but it was an alright job - we did okay.”
Sharks had kept Newcastle’s customary quick start at the EIS to a minimum as they trailed 20-17 after the first quarter.
A basket by Demetrius Jemison had ended the opening ten minutes of action and a 7-0 opening to the second quarter, with five from Nick Lewis, gave Sheffield a 24-20 advantage. Newcastle didn’t allow Sharks’ lead to get beyond eight (34-26) as Sheffield played their best basketball of the match before half-time.
It looked as though they’d take a five point lead into the interval but three free throws by the visitors in the last five seconds of the half trimmed the gap back to 40-38.
Newcastle scored the first six points of the third quarter through Joseph Ikhinmwin and they produced the first double-digit advantage of the match when veteran Charles Smith hit ten points in a 14-8 run that took the score to 60-50.
Sharks rallied to go on their own 10-2 burst but a basket plus free throw from Damion Huffman gave Eagles a 65-60 lead with just the fourth quarter to play.
It quickly became a 12 point gap at 74-62 early in the final period and Sharks were further hampered by Mike Tuck being called for his fourth foul, which sent him to the bench.
Without Tuck Sheffield fought well. The young legs of Colin Sing, Zach Gachette and Nick Lewis worked well with the experienced Olu Babalola and influential point-guard BJ Holmes.
The closest Sharks got was six on several occasions but each time they couldn’t summon up the energy to make Newcastle worry.
Lyons said having Tuck out because of foul trouble made it hard to fight back: “Guys are a lot more confident that they used to be and it showed that whatever group I had out there they played hard.
“I had a lot of young guys out there at the start of the fourth quarter and we pressed, did a good job and pulled it back in a bit.
“He’s a good scoring threat for us. He’s one of our better rebounders and they got a lot of rebounds during that stretch when we were in that eight point range.”
* SHARKS: Tuck 19, Jemison 18, Babalola 16, Holmes 14, Lewis 9, Sing 2, Bridge 2.
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