Newcastle Eagles v One Health Sharks Sheffield
1st Leg: Friday 12 April 2013 @ Sport Central (19:30)
2nd Leg: Monday 15 April 2013 @ EIS Sheffield (19:30)
Newcastle Eagles will look to take the first step to retaining their BBL Championship play-off crown when they host One Health Sharks Sheffield on Friday evening.
The sides meet in the second leg at the EIS on Monday evening, and the aggregate winner over the two legs will progress to the last four, with the final scheduled for Sunday April 28 at Wembley Arena.
The Eagles finished second in the BBL Championship regular season with a 25-8 record while a good run at the end of the season saw Sharks finish seventh with 17 wins from 33 games.
The two sides will certainly be well acquainted with each other, as two of their three regular season meetings have come in the last fortnight. The Eagles recorded a 107-86 home win in January and wrapped up the head-to-head series with an 88-80 road win on March 31. But the sides met at the same venue two days later and Sharks collected a 70-60 victory.
Eagles’ player-coach Fab Flournoy knows what to expect when Sheffield arrive at Sport Central on Friday: “Obviously we are quite up to speed with the Sharks, having played them twice last week in three days. They are playing very much as a team collective and their intensity is noticeably higher than when we played them earlier on in the season. All their players are bringing a lot of energy and it is matching that energy which will be the key to the two games for us.”
Flournoy doesn’t believe that the two recent games will have any bearing on this week’s tie: “I really don’t read much into the last two games, play-off positions were already determined. Over the course of the games different players were effective for each team so there is nothing in particular which stands out to pick up.”
“Playing them four times in a fortnight is not ideal but the previous two games are in the books now so we can only look forward. Obviously we will make some adjustments from those games, but in reality we played those last two games with one eye on what was to come.”
Eagles split their games last weekend, defeating Glasgow Rocks and losing at championship Jelson Homes DMU Leicester Riders, and Flournoy was pleased with how his side played:
“We played pretty well against the Rocks. Defensively we were able to knuckle down and get fourth quarter stops for the first time in a while and we really benefitted from having Damon [Huffman] healthy and on the floor to close the game out. For Rocks, Jamie Vanderbeken knocked down some shots and Mike Ringgold was really active around the basket.
“I was delighted with the way an inexperienced squad played against Riders. Darius [Defoe] stepped up as the senior pro but we had encouraging performances from others and a really promising 18 minutes from Eddie Matthew, playing against some of the most talented guards in the country. As ever for Leicester it was a team effort although yet again Jay Couisnard made some critical shots against us to open the game out at the end of the third quarter.”
Sharks’ forward Andrew Bridge, who signed for the Sheffield side last summer after ten years with the Eagles doesn’t think the recent meetings with have any bearing on this week’s games: “Obviously we’ve played them twice in the past week or so. We’ve won one and lost one which was a fair reflection on the two games. I don’t think either side showed their full hand in those games, and they’ll make any real different to when will happen the play-offs. We’re both stepping into the unknown and we don’t know what will happen, any that’ll make it interesting.”
“I think the main thing we need to do is keep them out of transition. People say they’re an older team but they still do a lot of transition and the get the ball down the court quickly. We need to limit their three-pointers, when we did that against them last week we won, and when we didn’t we lost. It’s that simple.
“We also have to match their intensity. When I was there, the thing that set us up to win things was that we played harder and that carried us through .If we match their work ethic we’ll give ourselves a chance to compete with them.”
Bridge knows that his side can’t concentrate on just stopping one or two Eagles’ players: “They have a few guys who can hurt you in different ways and it’s pointless trying just to stop one or two players. We could concentrate on Charles Smith [pictured] or Joe Chapman, but Damon Huffman threw up about 40 [points] on us last week. Kareem Maddox hurt us last time, and in all three games we’ve played against them, we’ve had different guys hurt us. So we have to do the best we can to keep them all under control.”
Bridge admits that his side’s poor start to the season may yet cost them: “We had such a bad start we put ourselves in a bad position, and at one stage we didn’t know whether we’d make the play-offs. I think we’ve finished as high as we possibly could given that start, and since Christmas we’ve beaten everyone except Leicester in the league.
“Seventh is where we deserved to finish, but the issue is we’re now hampered by the seeding both in the quarter-finals and in the semis if we get there. It does reward the higher teams, but there’s probably better ways to do that, and it would be good to go to a best-of-three series and give them two home games.”
Eagles’ guard Joe Chapman is clearly looking forward to the post-season: “It’s a great time of the year, and we have to play our best basketball if we’re going to succeed. Everyone’s back healthy now and we can look to make a run. It’s funny that we’ve just been down there twice in three days to play them, but we’ve learned a lot from those games.
“They’re one of the form teams at the moment after winning the Trophy, and they’ve been really good ever since. BJ Holmes and Nick Lewis are playing really well at the moment. Mike Tuck is always going to give you a double-double, and Bridgey [Andrew Bridge] gives them quality minutes off the bench.”
Chapman admits that it’s tough playing against former team-mate Bridge: “We played together for three years, and he knows all of our plays. He tells his guys how to guard me and Charles [Smith] so it’s a challenge to play against a former team-mate.”