SHEFFIELD Sharks face a tough task to make it through to the BBL Play-off semi-finals after a 16-point home loss last night at the EIS against Leicester Riders.
The East Midlands club have enjoyed an excellent season - beating Sharks three times on the way to a second placed finish - and had far too much athleticism and size for Sheffield to contend with.
However, a late burst from Sharks may have given them a glimmer of a hope for tomorrow’s return leg at Loughborough University.
Sharks scored the first basket of the night through Mike Tuck but that was as good as it got in the first quarter.
Cameron Rundles, one of the contenders for the league’s MVP prize, controlled the Riders offence.
But it was fellow guard Bradd Wierzbicki who did the damage with 11 points in the period to give Leicester a 29-15 lead.
There was no let up from the visitors in the second quarter and, although Ryan Patton brought the score back to 32-21 with a three for Sharks, Leicester out-scored their hosts 19-10 over the rest of the half to lead 51-31 at the interval.
Sharks stood toe-to-toe with Riders at the start of the third but any hopes of a comeback were soon extinguished.
The inspirational Rundles hit two threes in a 10-4 close to the period, capped off by a Yorick Williams triple on the buzzer, to make it 78-54 to Leicester with 10 minutes to play.
The curious nature of two-legged aggregate score tie meant that Sharks main job in the final quarter was damage limitation.
Leicester went up by 30 (84-54) on a Williams three before Sheffield ended the match with a 22-8 run to give themselves a very faint hope of progressing.
Olu Babalola scored seven in the run and Nate Reinking finished it off with a basket plus a free throw to give Sharks a fighter’s chance tomorrow.
n SHARKS: Babalola 23, Tuck 17, Reinking 14, Langhurst 13, Patton 9.