LIONS’ 2010/11 British Basketball League season comes to a close this weekend, and it will end with disappointment as the city side have failed to make the play-offs.
Although Mike New’s men had looked likely to miss out on a top eight finish for much of the year, a mini three-match winning run in the space of just five days had lifted spirits, and the impossible almost looked possible.
That was until Sheffield Sharks came to town on Sunday evening and ruined the party with a 74-83 win to confirm that Lions’ season will end this weekend, and not in the end of season play-offs which the club has been accustomed to.
Highly impressive home wins over Leicester Riders, Newcastle Eagles and Guildford Heat inside five days saw Lions close the gap on the latter who occupy that all important final play-off spot.
But they still needed a win over Sharks to take their fight into an exciting final day showdown and they couldn’t quite do it as their astonishing efforts went without the reward it deserved.
The Yorkshire side’s visit made it four games in a week and six in 12 days for Lions, who will now at least finish their season on a high with a final home fixture against Essex Pirates at Winterhill this Friday before the curtain falls at Glasgow Rocks on Sunday night.
Lions opened up like a house on fire against Sharks, Demarius Bolds and Stefan Gill putting the visitors to the sword leading 15-10 early on.
The Lions were getting success under the basket as Shawn Myers and Travis Nelson dominated the court, while Anthony Haase also found a way inside as the quarter ended with New’s men 29-20 up.
The second quarter saw Ryan Patton settle his Sheffield team with a couple of threes from out deep, before Steve Dagostino also found his range and fouls began to plague Lions. Sheffield would shoot 17 free throws in the first half going on to amass a total of 32 attempts from the stripe.
Yorick Williams responded in style for Lions with a three and after Sharks had closed to just two points on several occasions, it was left to teenage ace Connor Washington to hit a three on the buzzer, giving the Lions a 51-45 lead to take to the locker room.
Apart from Nelson’s six points in the third quarter Lions would only score an additional five as Patton and Olu Babalola carried the load for the visitors as they attacked hard.
Kris Clark hit a driving lay up for the hosts early in the quarter but Lions saw shots rim out time and again as Sharks eventually took the lead and Dagostino saw the third quarter out, leaving the Sharks with a 62-66 lead.
The fourth saw the Lions dig in defensively, but Nelson soon picked up a fourth foul and had to sit out. Bolds hit a long two as the clock showed five minutes to play and the score at 70-72, with Lions smelling blood.
But they then hit another game ending drought by failing to find the basket in three minutes, and so despite Sheffield scoring only four themselves, they were able to push the score out to 70-76.
Nelson returned and the Lions scrambled it back to 74-79 with a minute to play. But Dagostino converted a steal and Myers was off target with his long three, so that was pretty much that with Sharks taking it 74-83.
It was a brave effort from Lions who enjoyed their best run of the season going into the game with a 105-98 win over Guildford Heat coming on the back of seeing off league leaders Newcastle Eagles 83-81 and Leicester Riders 99-98.
So another season will come to a close this week and although it ends without a trophy, Lions will be able to look back on a year in which the club have taken huge strides off the court. Now they just need to deliver on it.