Sheffield Sharks still fighting to breach top three of Leicester Riders, Newcastle Eagles and London Lions

Breaking into the British Basketball League’s elite tier appears a task beyond the Sheffield Sharks at present.

Nicholas Lewis drives to the basket for Sheffield Sharks against Leicester Riders (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Having beaten second-placed Newcastle Eagles on Friday night, they were prevented from recording two notable scalps in 48 hours by the table-topping Leicester Riders, who claimed a 107-93 victory at Ponds Forge yesterday.

The Riders have been beaten only once in 12 league games this season and but for a spirited rally either side of the half-time interval, Sheffield never really looked like doubling that tally, despite 23 points from Antwon Lillard.

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Leicester have won the league the last three years while the other two members of the BBL’s top echelon, Newcastle and the London Lions, contested the BBL Cup final for the season’s first silverware last month.

Sharks' Antwon Lillard scores against Leicester Riders. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Sheffield are currently in a race to be the best of the rest with the prize of fourth place at season’s end at least giving them a home second leg in the play-off quarter-finals.

This defeat, again coming in front of no fans as the pandemic agonisingly advances towards a year, leaves them with a record of seven wins and six defeats.

They were certainly competitive, Lillard’s 23 complemented by 21 points from Jeremy Hemsley and 18 from Nicholas Lewis, but every time they threatened to get close, Leicester would respond with a three pointer. The champions were 10 of 20 from beyond the arc.

After a slow start by Atiba Lyons’ Sharks, the Riders opened up a 21-point lead midway through the second quarter.

Sheffield Sharks v Leicester Riders in the British Basketball League at Ponds Forge (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

But Sharks rallie, and a 15-2 run on the back of two Lewis three-pointers, helped them pull to within 12 at the break.

That deficit was down to nine points on a Hemsley score and seven when Lillard drained two free throws.

But when Bennett Koch missed an easy lay-up in traffic under the basket, Leicester re-seized the momentum on a Corey Johnson three-pointer and had re-established a 17-point lead at 80-63 after three quarters.

Sharks got to within nine points again late in the fourth but the damage had been done with the Riders’ first-quarter onslaught.

Antwon Lillard is blocked by Corey Johnson. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“We’re getting closer, we’re just not there yet,” said Hemsley.

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Driving to the basket (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)