By Marko Vranic
B. Braun Sheffield Sharks made an impressive start to their away weekend with an 86-78 win over Surrey Scorchers. The victory sees the Sharks continue to battle it out for fourth place, in an end portion of the season where playoff seeding is now the priority. Strong offense from both sides saw a close tussle throughout, with the Sharks’ superior defence rounding out the win.
Scorchers – McLemore, Hicks, James, Ogedengbe, Rickman
Sharks – Ratinho, Tuck, Lillard, Koch, Hemsley
A tentative opening saw both sides struggling to score, yet Mike Tuck’s big frame battled through to help open up a 4-0 start to the game for the away outfit. With offensive flow lacking, and a hig amounts of turnovers, it took almost four minutes for the Scorchers to score any points, Lacey James and Tony Hicks slowly building chemistry between one another to the chagrin of the Sharks. Nick Lewis’ introduction saw an immediate deep three, a trademark shot from the guard helping them retain a 13-6 lead. Shortly after, smart play from Evan Walshe on a fine fast break found James for the dunk to trail 12-15, with James scoring ten of the Scorchers first twelve points.
The second quarter began with a pair of free throws from Walshe, in a half where the home side remained patient and well-disciplined. The Sharks had now begun to rotate their team, with bench players given more game time by Coach Atiba Lyons. Rob Marsden repaid this faith with an impressive second period, finding success in the paint with his physicality and experience to score six points by the halfway stage of the quarter. Soon thereafter, Tayo Ogedengbe gave Surrey the advantage for the first time, his corner three (a constant play throughout) helping them to a 22-20 lead. Another Ogedengbe three from deep stretched the advantage to seven, but Tuck’s full court prowess allowed him to stop an attack on one end and finish the lay up down the other to keep the Sharks close. A pair of Hicks three pointers helped the home side lead by time at the interval, 44-34.
Sheffield Sharks big man Bennett Koch came to the ascendancy in the third quarter, excellently diving to keep the ball in play, throw the ball back behind him, and managing to find Jordan Ratinho, whose weaving run lead to a lay up. Sharpshooter Jeremy Hemsley’s three from range reduced the deficit to eight, and Bennett Koch completed a double-double with his impact key in the comeback. Hemsley again continued to apply pressure, his sumptuous three followed by his interception of James’ pass for a counterattack and dunk, leaving the Sharks one behind at 57-56. To finish the half, a Walshe move split the Sharks defence for a slim two point lead for Surrey, who might have lead by more had Walshe’s successful half court attempt at the buzzer been just a slight fraction earlier, being ruled out as late.
The Sharks’ switch to experienced players in the fourth quarter made it difficult for the home side, who were placed under constant pressure by the consistency of Koch, who dominated on each offensive play to slowly build their lead with two-pointers. An Antwon Lillard steal from Hicks lead to a simple lay up for the American, and his polished three-pointer gave the Sharks the 75-66 advantage to retain the momentum late on. An incisive pass from Tuck into Koch helped them stay ahead, the margin eventually proving unassailable for the home side.
Buoyed by impressive team play, including a standout game from Rob Marsden (8 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists off the bench), the MVP belongs to Bennett Koch, the 6’10 man excelling throughout and finishing on 22 points (personal season high) and 12 rebounds for the double-double, in a performance where he shot 9 of 12 from the field.