Fifth win on trot keeps Sharks in title hunt

Olu Babalola.
Olu Babalola.
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The Sharks kept the pressure on their rivals at the top of the BBL with a convincing 81-63 win at Essex Pirates on Saturday night.

It is Sharks’ fifth consecutive win and sets them up perfectly for a tough final eight matches of the season, which includes three games against title favourites Mersey Tigers.

Sheffield were without Marcus Stout, who rested an ankle injury rather than risk aggravating it, against a Pirates team that has won just once and has been bottom of the league all year.

It was always unlikely that the One Health sponsored-Sharks would need to be at their best to beat the young Essex side.

But a professional performance was needed and that is what Sharks delivered.

In their last meeting Essex raced into a 10-0 lead against Sheffield and on Saturday they were almost as quick to begin the match.

Adrien Sturt put Pirates 7-0 up before Sharks scored the next seven points to level. The rest of the first quarter was tight with Sheffield taking their first lead on a three by Ryan Patton at 14-13 as the period ended 16-16.

Veteran point-guard Ronnie Baker gave Essex their last lead with a three (26-25), which was the catalyst for Sharks to take control. Olu Babalola, who was impressive throughout, began a 16-2 Sharks run, which included another three from Patton to take the score to 41-28.

By half time Sheffield’s double-digit lead was well established at 47-32.

The in-form Paul Williams put the match beyond Essex during the opening exchanges of the third quarter.

The American centre scored the first four points of the period to make it 51-32.

Two free throws from Babalola pushed the margin past 20 (58-38) as player-coach Atiba Lyons made full use of his player rotation to preserve his team’s energy ready for Tuesday night’s home match against MK Lions.

Entering the final quarter with a 67-46 lead the Sharks never looked likely to relinquish it once Steve Dagostino had nailed a three to put them 72-48 up.

Sharks scorers: Patton 20, Williams 19, Babalola 19, Dagostino 10, Lyons 6, Anderson 5, Tuck 2.