SHARKS, TIGERS SET UP PLAY-OFF FINAL CLASH

Sheffield Sharks upset the seedings and overturned an eight-point deficit with a 98-78 victory in the second leg of their BBL play-off semi-final. Mersey Tigers now await in the final next weekend after they coasted past  Cheshire Jets 86-79.

Tony Garbelotto's side, holding a 15-point cushion from the first leg, never looked troubled despite the ongoing absence of injured captain Drew Sullivan.

And they will now get the chance to complete a domestic treble and to exact revenge on Sheffield for their Cup final hammering in January.
 
They could have been forgiven for resting on their laurels, but the Tigers are on a hot run of form which has then win all but two of their last 12 games, and they carried their momentum on in to this game.
 
Two successive three-pointers from Nate Reinking extended the Tigers advantage and although Cheshire led 27-26 after the first quarter, the league champions, once again using the John Amaechi Centre in Manchester as a base, limited their opponents to just seven points in the second period to open up a 45-34 cushion.
 
Confident that the tie was now well beyond the Jets, the Tigers opened up in the third, with James Jones consistently landing baskets from outside the three-point line as he built a game-best haul of 23 points.
 
Andrew Thomson and David Aliu both landed three pointers of their own towards the end of the third quarter, and the game was well sewn up with ten to play at 70-51 when rookie Max Casanove recorded a fine solo basket on the buzzer.
 
The Tigers stretched their advantage to as much as 20 points in the fourth quarter, before the Jets – paced by 17 from Quemont Greer – restored some late pride in reducing arrears to seven but there was no denying the Tigers a place in Birmingham for next Saturday’s season finale.

But it will be no easy ride against a Sharks side who showed immense resilience once again after coming from behind to sweep past Newcastle for a 166-154 aggregate victory at the EIS as Olu Babalola exacted havoc on his former side.

The GB international hit a game-high 32 points and 13 rebounds to help the hosts deliver a dominating third quarter which proved decisive in sending the Cup winners onward.

"We always knew that we were in the game,” said Sharks coach Atiba Lyons. “We just had to keep going and get on a good run.” 

Newcastle held a 26-25 lead at the end of the first quarter and another 9-0 run in the second pushed the visitors 40-33 ahead.

Sheffield levelled with nine straight points but it was the Eagles who grabbed a 46-42 half-time cushion.

Five points from Babalola ignited a 12-4 burst which put his side 56-54 midway through the third quarter and a further 14-5 run opened up a 73-62 lead.

However a Reggie Jackson three-pointer saw the Sharks up 73-65 headed into the fourth with all to play for with the rivals tied on aggregate. 

Drew Lasker trimmed the deficit to 80-74 but it was the last time that Newcastle would hold the upper hand.

A 15-1 flurry, including seven points from Paul Williams, put Sheffield in total command with 2:07 left and the Eagles – despite 28 points from Jackson – had no answer as they were doomed to end the season without a prize to their name.

“Olu came up big for us today,” added Lyons. “And as a unit we showed a lot of fight against a very good Eagles outfit to get through."

The play-off final at the National Indoor Arena (4pm, Sky Sports 3) will be preceded by the BBL All Star Game (1.30) which features a Great Britain v Rest of the World clash.

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