Mersey Tigers completed a memorable treble, as they defeated the Sheffield Sharks 79-74 at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.
Manchester-born James Jones was named MVP hitting 17 points, which included 5-out-of-7 three-point attempts. Plus adding six boards to his stat-tally.
“I feel great,” Jones said. “This is our third win of the season. When this team was put together, our goal was to win as much as possible.”
Despite the single digit scoreline, Mersey led from tip-to-buzzer.
Sheffield’s Steve Dagostino, a thorn in the Mersey’s side in January’s Cup final was figured out by the Tigers, scoring just five points all-game.
“We know Sheffield have some great outside shooters, we wanted to test them (Sharks) and make it as hard as possible for them,” Tigers’ David Aliu commented. He ended with 11 points overall.
Mersey coach Tony Garbelotto said that he wasn’t looking at this match as a ‘revenge’ mission after that defeat in the new year, yet his players stepped onto the court all guns blazing.
Tigers began the stronger of the two sides. Jamal Williams, replacing a not fully-fit Andrew Sullivan hit Mersey’s first five points signalling his intent. Tafari Toney joined in, and David Aliu hit off the bench with his first touch thanks to a baseline pass from Nate Reinking to give Mersey a 13-6 advantage mid-way.
Sheffield hung around, not being outdone. Spreading the ball, attacking Mersey’s big men. After trailing by nine towards the end, they cut it to six at the end of the first. Mersey leading 23-17
Paul Williams opened with back-to-back buckets to trim the lead further to begin second quarter proceedings, and a Mike Tuck bucket in transition forced Garbelotto to call a timeout, with his side leading 26-23. Jones with a triple in the middle of Sheffield’s mini burst.
Tigers roared back, extending their lead nine off a Jones score, which was replied by Tuck inside. That bucket closed an open first-half, with Tigers leading 42-35 at the end of it.
Both teams shot over 48% from the field. Mersey kept Sheffield’s backcourt at bay, as Steve Dagostino was held scoreless at the half, Ryan Patton with just 5 points.
Nervousness set in, as the third quarter dragged. Both teams missing frequently and tiredness kicking in. Only 25 points were scored in the entire ten minutes.
Sheffield ate away the Tigers’ lead in slow chunks. Patton going coast-to-coast for the lay-up to trim it to four (49-45).
Perry Lawson, returning from injury extended the Merseysiders lead to nine with a triple which was cancelled out by a similar effort from Tuck, as Sheffield were definitely still in it, trailing 54-48 at the end of three.
Mersey Tigers though were in control. Patton narrowed the gap to five for Sheffield at 61-56 with back-to-back free-throws. Jones though threw a dagger in the comeback with a big three, followed by an exclamation throw-down by Tafari Toney, which gave Mersey a 10-point lead at 66-56.
Dagotino losing possession to Tigers’ Nate Reinking at the end for the easy lay-up was the icing on the cake, as Mersey strolled over the BBL finish line.
“I’m tired, but exhilarated,” Garbelotto said.
“I’m proud of what these players have achieved. But not just the players, but the staff as well. We’ve had people give-up incredible amounts of time to make this happen. What can I say, I’m so proud.”
Tafari Toney led Mersey Tigers’ scoring with 19 points, he also grabbed 13 rebounds on his way to a double-double. Ryan Patton led all scorers for the Sharks with 24 points, which included back-to-back three-pointers in the last few seconds.
John Hobbs for TalkBasket.net – in Birmingham