ATIBA: SHARKS ARE CUP UNDERDOGS

Sheffield Sharks player-coach Atiba Lyons has declared his side as underdogs to defend their BBL Cup title against Mersey Tigers despite a win in their final warm-up game, against Plymouth, on Wednesday.

Sharks won the competition last season with a thrilling 89-86 victory against Cheshire Jets, headlining a sparkling first half of the campaign when they led the league.

This time, however, it is a different situation.

“Any team that jumps out to a 12-2 start are the favourites,” said Lyons. “I feel Tony Garbelotto has a lot of talent and a disciplined team. They don’t make a lot of mistakes and play very tough defence.

Lyons is looking for a scrap on Sunday

“In my opinion a big key to their great start is the veteran experience of Nate Reinking and Andrew Sullivan. They have been in a lot of close games but those two steady the ship and that is what makes them the favourites.”

However Mersey’s threat does not end there, Lyons declared.

“Andrew Thomson is a piece of the Tigers jigsaw I feel was overlooked last season and this season. He is surrounded by two GB National Team starters and Tafari Toney who get all the attention but he is a type of player you don’t necessarily focus on in your scouting report but ends up with 18 points 10 rebounds.

“He plays well off the guards and Tony’s system really suits him as a player.”

The Sharks will also face two of the players who helped them win the Cup last season, Tafari Toney and Perry Lawson, but Lyons isn’t panicking about the task ahead for his team.

“In order for us to win we just have to play to our strengths. Basketball isn’t rocket science so I don’t try to complicate the game. We are going to play to our strengths offensively, take care of the ball and rebound. That is all we can do and the best team on the night wins.”

Sheffield warmed up for the final with a comfortable 96-82 over Plymouth Raiders.

Sharks looked back to their early season form while Raiders couldn’t overcome a slow start, which saw them trail by 10 at the end of the first quarter and more than 20 at half time.

Marcus Stout for Sheffield was particularly impressive with nine points in the quarter as Sharks opened up a double-digit lead. Olu Babalola was also active at both ends of the court. The fast paced home team was causing Raiders problems as Sharks led 23-13 after ten minutes.

Raiders mounted a mini-comeback in the early exchanges of the second quarter with a 6-1 run reducing the deficit to 24-19. An Atiba Lyons three stopped the rot and set Sharks off on a 16-4 burst to make it 40-25.

With Stout and Ryan Patton running wild in the backcourt Sheffield continued to pressure Raiders. A 12-2 run up to the half time buzzer gave Sharks their biggest lead of the match at 54-31.

Sharks kept a lead of 20 points through the majority of the third quarter. Raiders best run of 10-4 only got them back to 66-47 before Sheffield, through Stout and Tuck combined well to stretch the margin to 77-54.

After a scoreless first half Evaldas Zabas was leading Raiders better play and he set up Chez Marks for the last basket of the period to trim Sharks lead to 77-57.

Any hopes Plymouth had for a comeback were extinguished by a Steve Dagostino inspired 14-4 burst, which put Sharks lead to 91-61 and the match beyond the visitors.

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