LIONS are in serious danger of not qualifying for the British Basketball League play-offs after going down to an eighth defeat in their last nine Championship games on Sunday.
Mike New’s men lost 92-84 to Sheffield Sharks at the Lions Arena – their fourth home defeat in five – meaning the highest they can now realistically finish this season is seventh place.
However, with a tough run of games to end the regular season, the city side face a huge test just to cling on to their top eight place, with nearest rivals Cheshire Jets two points behind with a game in hand.
The north west outfit look like the one side likely to challenge the play-off places and on paper have an easier run-in than Lions who travel to rivals Leicester Riders this Saturday before visiting champions-elect Newcastle Eagles the following week.
Lions host Jets in mid-April in a game that will go a long way to deciding which club will get to extend their season, but Lions can not afford to pin all their hopes on that game alone.
Sunday’s defeat to Sharks was Lions’ third of the season to the south Yorkshire side, but in going down by eight points they certainly ran them a lot closer than in those previous two meetings – 85-66 and 110-87 both in Sheffield.
Ryan Patton and Olu Babalola were the chief tormentors of their hosts with 28 and 27 points respectively to see the Sharks through.
After those previous two heavy defeats at the hands of Sharks, Lions would have been pleased to move into an early 15-9 advantage on the back of former Sheffield player Justin Dobbins’ basket.
However, Sharks responded well to tie the match at 17-17 on a Ryan Patton three before Demarius Bolds had the last word of the first quarter to make it 19-17 for Lions.
Struggling on the perimeter, the hosts had allowed Sharks to get their three-point game going, while conversely Lions had gone 1/9 from behind the arc.
Lions built a handy lead mid-way through the second quarter with Bolds connecting again to make it 33-24. But Sheffield began their fightback through a Mike Tuck three and pulled within one at 39-38 on a Jimmy Langurst three-point play.
Lions’ Nuno Pedroso scored the final point of the half from the free throw line to give the home team a 40-38 advantage, but for their domination, Lions should have been ahead by more.
As they did in Sheffield during their last meeting, Sharks excelled in the third quarter to take control of the contest.
Lions turned the ball over four straight times to start the period, and once Sheffield levelled the match at 51-51 on a Langhurst triple, they scored 14 of the next 16 points to lead 65-53 heading into the final period.
Sharks then stretched their lead out to 18 at 75-57 on a Patton three, before allowing Lions to gradually close the gap.
Carl Josey and Ishmael Fontaine nailed threes during the remainder of the quarter without ever really getting within striking distance as the hosts maintained a healthy gap throughout to take the win.
Bolds led the Lions scoring on 28 whilst Daniel Northern hauled down 18 rebounds and Dobbins maintained his impressive run since joining the side with 18 points.