Sharks stop Scorchers in defensive clash

BBL Championship
Surrey Scorchers 54-60 B Braun Sheffield Sharks (18-16, 10-11, 12-15, 14-18)
Scorchers – Taylor 12, Martin 12, Wang 11; Sharks – Banks Jr 15, Nelson 13, Ratinho 12

When two of the lowest scoring teams in the league face off, you might go into it thinking it’s not set to be the most exciting contest, but this was proof that the B Braun Sheffield Sharks can win an entertaining game, even if they put just 60 points on the board.

The reason the visitors to Surrey Sports Park and the at home Surrey Scorchers typically average around 74 points per game is more to do with the teams’ style of play. Coaches Lloyd Gardner, Surrey and Sheffield’s Atiba Lyons build good defensive groups and design their offenses to suit the style of their best players.

The Sorchers lean on Padiet Wang to create. He pushes the ball well, but he can break down defenders with hirky jerky style. But he does have a bit more help now in the form of newcomer Ryan Martin. He got the step on Sheffield’s Marcus Delpeche for a fadeaway that ultimately missed, but he hustled to chase down a loose ball that opened up the lane for teammate Luke Busumbru, who cut through a broken defense for a beautiful layup for the last points to tie it up 13-13.

On the other end, the Sharks put the ball in the hands of Saeed Nelson. He and Kipper Nichols are the team’s primary perimeter creators, but they like to feed the ball to big man Bennet Koch. He can see over defenses and pass well, he sets good screens, but he can also back down a defender with good footwork and create his own hook shots, which he did to start the second quarter. The single dribble spin was so smooth, Koch looked like a ballet dancer laying up the easy two.

With both sides boasting multiple good big guys, it doesn’t leave a lot of space in the paint, but Koch got an opportunity to show his good passing a few minutes later when he found Channel Banks Jr cutting underneath the basket, who also made his presence felt from a distance.

The Scorchers low shot attempts and scoring this season is a big reason they have been struggling for wins. Coming into the game just 1-7 in the Championship, they were up against it with British guard Josh Steel in street clothes along with Dean Wanliss.

To deal with this and other injuries, Martin joined the team in recent weeks and he is a big reason for that one win, which came against Newcastle Eagles one week earlier, when Martin had 20 points. He managed seven points in the first half against Sheffield, four of which came in the second quarter on unconventional looking jump shots – you don’t get points for style, but you do if they go in.

Sheffield had issues of their own, and lost Nichols after just 12 minutes of play.

Just one point separated the two sides at the half, which looked set to be another low scoring affair. Multiple 24-second violations and other turnovers from the Sharks gave the Scorchers the edge.

It’s clear the defenses of both teams were on overdrive. Sheffield was getting blocks thanks to packing the paint and good rotations, while the guards were hunting in passing lanes to get steals. Meanwhile, Surrey didn’t allow much space below the three-point line, which meant the Sharks – one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league – couldn’t get confident shots up and were forced into more 24-second violations .

Sheffield wasn’t forcing anything despite Surrey’s great defensive pressure. With two minutes left in the third, the Sharks kept moving bodies and passing out of dribble penetration, which led to an open three from Banks Jr. He drove to the basket baseline, kicked it to the corner, relocated above the break like he’s Stephen Curry and Nelson found him open for the bucket that put them up six.

They still couldn’t keep a comfortable lead, as Quincy Taylor went on a personal tear: he drove hard after good clock management and got fouled in the act to hit two free throws. He then got into the paint again for two, then attacked Jordan Ratinho to hit another driving layup on the next possession.

This tied the game up at 40 apiece. Koch got a bucket before the end of the quarter, but it was all set up for a tense finish.

Charleston Dobbs entered the fourth without having impacted the game much, but he made the most of the opening minutes of the final frame by getting to the line and then tying the contest on a step-back jumper. He hit another free throw before being subbed out for Taylor, getting a job-well-done cheer from the bench as he did so.

A perfect example of why Sheffield is a low scoring team came with just under seven minutes left in the game. After a steal at the top of the perimeter, Banks Jr. led a three-on-two advantage in transition, but they slowed the ball down and set up a five-on-five attack. It worked, they got Marcus Delpeche open in the paint, and the Scorchers fouled him trying to recover – he made one of two to go ahead by two points.

The Sharks pushed the lead to five, but there was confusion with four minutes to go in the game. They committed the fewest turnovers per game in the league, but Sheffield had another 24-second violation, so credit must go to the Scorchers’ defense. This led to a big layup by Martin for Surrey on the other end, which put the home team on a mini-run again to claw back to a one-point deficit.

Sheffield are one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the BBL, but they managed ten against Surrey, including a huge one for Koch, who found Rodney Glasgow Jr for a step back jumper. This slowed the Scorchers’ run and it got sloppy: rushed offense and bad fouls allowed their opponents to creep away on the scoreboard.

It might not have been a high scoring affair, but the tense defensive competition made for an entertaining game of basketball, which resulted in a disappointing loss for the hosts.

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