Sheffield Sharks bring the house down with thumping of Newcastle Eagles in thrilling Canon Medical Arena debut
Playing in front of a sellout crowd at their brand new Canon Medical Arena, the Sharks rose to the occasion, thumping their long-time British Basketball League rivals Newcastle Eagles 86-56.
Given all the build-up to their first game in an arena they had been lobbying hard for for almost a decade, and in front of a crowd of 2,000 containing a number of new faces to sell their brand and the sport of basketball to, it would have been no surprise had the Sharks suffered a little stage fright and fallen flat.
But there was no such concern from the moment Devearl Ramsey lobbed up the first two points to the last bucket sunk by fan favourite Kipper Nichols, Sharks produced a crowd-pleasing turn to mark the opening of their £14m arena in the most explosive of sporting fashions.
For head coach Atiba Lyons, who is also director of the club and of the arena, it was a heartening performance on an emotional day.
“It’s real, it’s here now. All the commitment, all our hard work, it’s paid off,” he said.
“When we got here the arena was shaking. To see families, kids, and junior Sharks players all here, was fantastic. It’s all building now and it’s a memory I won’t forget.”
For co-owner and chairman Yuri Matischen, who founded the club back as the Sheffield Forgers in 1991 and had been dreaming of this moment for much of that time, the big day exceeded expectations.
“The performance, the show, the sellout - amazing,” said Matischen, who eventually found the key to unlock the door to an arena with private investment from Canon Medical and The Living Care Group.
“This is why we wanted to build our own arena.
“We knew how powerful this sport could be. The day had everything; families, TV, music, baskets.
“It’s everything we could have hoped for and more. The challenge now is to do this consistently week in, week out.”
Sharks players came out as if it were they who had been waiting 10 years for this home venue.
Ramsey has only been with the club since the middle of last season but his influence from the point guard position is undisputed and it was he who had the honour of scoring the Sharks’ first basket in their new home.
That sparked a 9-0 run in which Bennett Koch, now in his fifth season and someone who used to dominate the boards at Ponds Forge, proved just as effective at both ends of the court.
It was a show-stopping start befitting the occasion and the excitable crowd as Sharks built a 20-11 lead at the end of the first and stretched it even further to 45-21 at the interval.
Jalon Pipkins produced the crowd-pleasing fireworks, a behind-the-back pass to Koch setting up two and then a steal and charge up the court leading to a slam dunk that brought the crowd to their feet.
Behind him, British prospect RJ Eytle-Rock showed flashes of his potential and Parker Stewart scored a pair of three-pointers to keep Newcastle, who were wayward in their shooting, at bay.
Familiar faces like Nichols (14 points) and Jordan Ratinho (13) showed their prowess defensively while Jubril Adekoya looks the experienced British Basketball League player he was brought in to be after years of winning titles with Leicester Riders.
The lead was 30 points by the end of the third, meaning Sharks could look to the record books as they entertained the crowd in the fourth.
One record from this long-standing rivalry was the fewest points conceded to Newcastle - 50 - but the Eagles eventually hit the half-century mark with 2.05 left to play.
Eytle-Rock (13 points) poured in a hat-trick of three pointers, swiftly followed by one from Nichols, and even homegrown Nate Montgomery - born and raised in Chapeltown - got a few minutes off the bench, almost bringing his team-mates to their feet with a lay-up that hit the rim and bounced out.
Lyons concluded: “Our aim was to come out fast, which we did, and we didn’t let up, we were relentless.
“It says a lot about the character of the team, it shows that they are ready to play on the biggest stages like this one.”