|It was a big night at the top of the BBL Championship on Friday, with two of the top three teams recording key wins.
Reigning champions Esh Group Eagles Newcastle held off third-placed Worcester Wolves to all-but end the Midlands’ clubs hopes of snatching a first title.
Second-placed Leicester Riders kept pace with Eagles, remaining 10 points behind with five games in, hand as they overwhelmed Manchester Giants.
And Sheffield Sharks got back on track after two defeats last weekend, with a strong showing against London Lions.
Esh Group Eagles Newcastle 81 (23, 38, 61)(Chapman 21, Fletcher 20, Defoe 12)
Worcester Wolves 75 (16, 42, 52)(Blackwell 27, Losonsky 16, Mugica 11)
Esh Group Eagles Newcastle passed another BBL Championship test on Friday, outlasting Worcester Wolves for an 81-75 win at Sport Central.
Third-placed Wolves have been one of the few teams to enjoy a favourable record against Eagles in recent years, winning all three meetings between the sides last term and ending the champions’ unbeaten start to this season in January.
An even first half suggested another tough night lay ahead for Fab Flournoy’s men, and so it proved.
But a 10-0 close to the third period, sparked by the energetic play of Rahmon Fletcher saw Eagles seize control and go into the final period with a nine-point edge.
The hosts protected their advantage until the final minute when, inspired by a 27-point showing from Perris Blackwell, Wolves twice cut the gap to four points.
But Charles Smith and Fletcher converted crunch free throws to ice a victory, which gives Eagles the season head-to-head tie-breaker against Wolves.
Joe Chapman enjoyed a landmark night, scoring 21 points for Eagles and passing 500 assists in BBL Championship play.
Pavol Losonsky had 16 points for Wolves, passing 1,000 in the competition in the process.
Leicester Riders 91 (15, 46, 65) (Watson 24, Bernardini 15, Washington 10)
Manchester Giants 69 (19, 31, 45)(Jones 16, Larkai 14, Haggith 14)
Leicester Riders maintained the pressure on BBL Championship leaders Esh Group Eagles Newcastle with a commanding 91-69 home win against Manchester Giants on Friday.
The BBL Trophy winners sat 10 points behind Eagles with five games in hand at tip-off, and ended the night in the same position after overwhelming the improving Giants.
Yorick Williams’ side started the game brightly, building on positive recent performances to lead 19-15 after the first period.
But this only served to jolt Rob Paternostro’s men into life.
Tyler Bernardini opened the second quarter with a three-pointer and Riders exploded for a 13-2 run.
From there the advantage continued to grow as Riders’ strength in depth told, they got 32 points from the bench and forced Giants into 21 turnovers.
Callum Jones led the Manchester club with 16 points but could not prevent them slipping to back-to-back defeats, remaining eight points off the BBL Play-Off places.
It was Riders’ collective strength that shone through but point guard Neil Watson led the charge with 24 points, including four three-pointers, while Tyler Bernardini added 15.
Riders are in action again on Sunday, when they face Cheshire Phoenix while Giants host Bristol Flyers.
Sheffield Sharks 73 (18, 36, 57)(Hogg 24, Brooks 19, Robinson 13)
London Lions 63 (14, 31, 52)(Watt 20, J Williams 11, Lewis 10)
Sheffield Sharks got back on track with a 73-63 BBL Championship victory against London at EIS Sheffield on Friday.
Atiba Lyons’ suffered back-to-back defeats last weekend as their push for a top-three place was knocked off-course.
But Sharks responded with a hard-fought victory against Lions, behind 21-point performance from Brandon Hogg.
After an evening opening, the hosts took control behind a 20-4 run either side of half-time.
Lions recovered their composure to pull within two points early in the fourth quarter when Alex Owumi connected from long range.
But Jerrold Brooks hit five points in 40 seconds to re-establish Sharks’ advantage and the hosts managed to keep Lions at arm’s length, thanks in no small part to the visitors’ 21 turnovers.
The win sees sharks close the gap on third-placed Worcester Wolves to four points while Lions slip to an 11-12 record in sixth spot.
Demond Watt paced the visitors with 20 points as well as nine rebounds.
Jerrold Brooks was the perfect foil for Hogg, adding 19 points and seven assists.