BJ Holmes, the Most Valuable Player of the final, scored a game-high 25 points and he hit two free throws with ten seconds left that sealed victory.
But Sheffield had to fight off a huge comeback from Leicester who trailed by as much as 12 with eight minutes left.
“We were the only ones who believed we could do this,” acknowledged Holmes. “Everyone else thought we were a long shot. But we came in here, executed, played good defence and came out with the win.”
It was Sheffield’s first BBL Trophy triumph since the days of John Amaechi’s 40-point haul in 1998. And it ended Leicester’s fledgling hopes of a season sweep of titles.
It was a deserved win too, although the margin might suggest otherwise.
The Sharks played with an assurance and control that belied their status as outsiders and in Holmes, a massive presence with 5/7 three-point shooting, they had a player with the big game on the big day.
“We felt like the bullied little brother coming into this game,” said Sheffield coach Atiba Lyons. “We’d been written off as 20-point losers. We knew it would be tough but we gave it all we’d got.”
Fittingly, Holmes hit the pair of free throws that decided the game eight seconds from time, after Leicester had levelled the scores with a three from Jorge Calvo with 1:22 remaining.
But when it seemed like Leicester were about to do what Newcastle almost did to them in January’s Cup final and nick it with a late flourish, Holmes stepped up to give Sheffield their just desserts.
“It’s just a free throw,” said Holmes afterwards. “I was in the same situation – for the first time – when I was in the seventh grade. So I’ve been doing it for some time now.”
If Holmes had been as nervous as some suggested before the game, he soon got over it. He splashed three three-pointers in his 11 points in the first quarter as Lyons’ squad started aggressively, chasing early offensive rebounds (that showed our sense of urgency,” said the coach) and finishing the first 10 minutes 23-21 up.
“We knew we had to come out shooting to get them out of the zone,” said Holmes. “And we knew Leicester were going to come out and be physical. We came up short a few times against them but we knew if we played hard and smart we’d have a chance.”
Mike Tuck’s 11 points and seven rebounds and Demetrius Jemison’s 15 points and seven boards demonstrated Sheffield’s willingness to takeon the dirty work, especially in the absence of Micah Williams, who is out for the season after undergoing foot surgery.
After Jemison came alive in at the start of the second quarter, Sheffield led 31-23 despite getting only one look at the basket from three-point range in the quarter. “They did what any good team does – they took away what’s working for the other team,” noted Holmes.
Andrew Bridge’s free throws gave Sharks a 39-29 lead, but Jay Couisnard and Zaire Taylor followed Andrew Sullivan’s lead and scored the last seven points of the half.
If that was a warning to Sheffield, they certainly heeded it. Jemison again gave them a good start to a quarter and then things started happening that might have convinced Leicester that it wasn’t their day.
Midway through the third, Sharks recycled a missed shot for a three from Lewis. After Rowe and Couisnard started getting hot again, Holmes blasted a pair of threes (the first, while falling back on to the Leicester bench) that equalled the three-point scoring record in a final and gave Sheffield an eight-point lead heading into the last 10 minutes.
With 7:22 left, Riders called a timeout, trailing by 12 points. Paternostro worked some magic and the team embarked on a 13-2 run in the next four minutes that brought them to within a point.
Still the omens were with Sheffield. Jemison missed a pair of free throws but inexplicably got the ball back under the hoop for a dunk. Even Leicester’s Taylor, who hit a monster three to finally see off Newcastle at the NIA, was struggling to engage his clutch shooting.
Sullivan, who had nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks, felt the team had short-changed their fans. Other than Couisnard’s 21 points (on 8/16 shooting) and Taylor’s 19, there was no sign of the Leicester that had contributions from everywhere in January’s Cup triumph.
“I thought early on we missed a lot of looks that we should have made and they played a lot of good defence,” said Riders coach Rob Paternostro. “When you come to a final you’ve got to make sure that you play well on the day and we didn’t play as well as we could, so all credit to them.
“I didn’t see anything we hadn’t seen before. The only thing that was different was Holmes making a ton of shots from the outside.”
In the end, Sheffield won the Trophy despite scoring just 10 points (and only three field goals) in the last 10 minutes.
It was, no question, their day.
Earlier, in the BBL Shield, Scottish League champions Falkirk Fury beat Edinburgh Kings 77-53.
Main pic: Ville Vuorinen
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