Friday 1 May 2015 – EIS Sheffield – 7:30pm
Sunday 3 May 2015 – Sport Central – 5:00pm
Going up against Newcastle Eagles reminds Olu Babalola of his battles with the famous Duke University Blue Devils.
This will be the fourth time Sheffield Sharks have met Fab Flournoy’s side in a BBL Play-off Semi Final while they have also faced off in the final four of the BBL Cup in the previous two seasons.
Last term’s top two will renew their rivalry in Sheffield on Friday before Sunday’s return at Sport Central.
Babalola was on the winning side of this match-up during the 2010/11 Play-off Semi Finals.
He has since become accustomed to the nature of the challenge, one that brings back memories of taking on the five-time NCAA champions while representing Clemson University.
“I remember beating the Eagles in the same Semi Finals my first year here at Sheffield,” said Babalola.
“But that’s so far removed now. Nobody is thinking about previous seasons. All we’re thinking about is the fact that we haven’t beat them this season yet so we have a tough job in order to get to the finals.”
He added: “Newcastle, of course, are a great team. They have a great background and are one of the most highly regarded teams in the country’s history, undoubtedly. Playing them is always tough. They kind of remind me of what it was like playing against Duke in my university days.”
“It’s that same kind of vibe. We have to match or supersede their intensity, and their aggressive nature because we feel we have just as much talent. If we can manage these things, then we feel we’ll have a good chance to go through.”
The form of Atiba Lyons’ side has been as good as any team’s in recent weeks.
The Steel City club finished the regular season with nine wins from their last 11 games before upsetting Leicester Riders in the Quarter Finals, after overtime.
Eagles appeared to make light work of Bristol Flyers in their last eight clash to reach this stage, but ignoring what has gone before and focusing on what is making Sheffield so effective now, could be key for the Championship, Cup and Trophy winners.
“You can’t go back to previous years or even to previous games this season,” said player-coach Flournoy.
“Teams evolve over the course of the year so it’s a question of understanding how well they are playing at the moment and planning accordingly. They are in a good rhythm at the moment. They have used the second half of the season to build up momentum for the Play-offs and integrate Mike Cook. They will present a formidable challenge for us.”
Regular season head-to-head results:
Newcastle Eagles 95 Sheffield Sharks 84 (Sport Central, 10 Oct 2014)
Sheffield Sharks 75 Newcastle Eagles 95 (EIS Sheffield, 07 Nov 2014)
Sheffield Sharks 84 Newcastle Eagles 97 (EIS Sheffield, 01 Feb 2015)