By Marko Vranic
B. Braun Sheffield Sharks suffered a 5th consecutive away defeat as the Manchester Giants ran out comfortable 77-58 winners to boost their own playoff chances. In a result that leaves the Sharks in seventh place, consistent scoring from the hosts helped them overcome their highest-ranked opponents.
Giants – Cassell Jr, Satchell, Ulph, Whelan, Marshall-Johnson
Sharks – Nichols, Ratinho, Tuck, Lillard, Hemsley
The Sharks started brightly, and set the pace early on with an 8-2 start to the game, with a well timed screen from Mike Tuck allowing Antwon Lillard to invade the paint before finding sharpshooter Jeremy Hemsley to score the three. However, the Giants grew in momentum as the first quarter progressed, with back-to-back three-pointers from Justin Satchell keeping the scoreboard close, expertly executing under pressure. As the Giants grew in confidence, Sheffield became increasingly frustrated as the second quarter drew near. Jordan Ratinho was the Sharks’ main threat in the opening phase, finishing the quarter with 11 points to leave the Giants leading by four.
The second quarter remained close, and early reliance on the lively Nicholas Lewis paid dividends as the Sharks halved their deficit to 26-23. One highlight for the Sharks, and one which seemed to signal a change in the pattern of play, was an impressive dunk from Lillard to further reduce arrears, earning a foul in the process to draw a huge reaction from the Sheffield bench and players. As was the case early on, their lack of production offensively was met with even greater dominance in the paint from Giants big man David Ulph, who ended the game on 13 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists as they nudged further ahead for a 36-30 half time lead.
The Giants continued to be solid after the break, establishing a 10-point lead at 43-33. Although only outscored by one in the third quarter, the Sharks squandered several chances, with dips in concentration and passing errors undermining their attempts at minimising the lead. Bennett Koch’s increased presence in the paint caused the Giants problems, but ill discipline throughout, along with Satchell’s relentless scoring, kept costing them defensively. A cohesive passing move from the Giants culminated in a three from Jordan Whelan to increase the gap to 7 ahead of the final quarter.
The start of the fourth quarter saw tentative play from both sides, cancelling one another out thanks to dogged defense. Marshall-Johnson found himself in space to punish the Sharks with a three-pointer, while Whelan swiftly added another to increase their advantage to twelve. Continued pressure from the hosts left the Sharks with little option but to play more expansively, but this ultimately could not deny their opponents victory.
Despite struggling offensively, one notable performance for the Sharks was Bennett Koch’s strong numbers off the bench. The American recorded a double-double, his side’s sixth of the campaign, with 16 points and 10 rebounds an impressive haul in an otherwise underwhelming attacking display.