League champions Newcastle Eagles will look to wrap up their BBL Championship campaign as they host Sheffield Sharks on Sunday.
Sharks go into the game after a good weekend which saw them extend their winning run to six games, their best form of the season, with a 78-73 victory against Kularoos Plymouth Raiders followed by a 96-71 win at Team Birmingham Panthers. It was the win against the third-placed Raiders that pleased head coach Pete Scantlebury the most,
“It was a good win, and a real test when we were up against it. We were three down with three minutes remaining, but we limited them to only one basket in the rest of the game. We’re going into the play-offs in really good form, but we’ll judge how far we’ve progressed on Sunday.”
Scantlebury is expecting a tough game despite Eagles already having won the BBL league title,
“They are the only team we haven’t beaten so far, and I know they’ve got various injury problems, but Lynard Stewart has been consistent for them all season. They’ve got some experienced guys in Andrew Bridge and Fab [Flournoy] who can step up, while Steve Leven is also playing well.
“We’ll know by Friday whether we can get fifth place, but if you’d have told me six weeks ago we would be in with a chance of fifth place, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Sharks will go into the game with injury doubts about the fitness of Atiba Lyons, as Scantlebury explains,
“Atiba turned his ankle against Plymouth, and didn’t play against Birmingham, but all the others are fine except for the usual bumps and bangs you have in April.”
Eagles coach Fab Flournoy is expecting another battle on Sunday, after his team have endured three consecutive overtime games, winning the all,
“We’ve got one more big one against the hottest team in the league. It took them a while to get their bearings, but it’s better to get there now than at any other time in the season. League position goes out of the window in the play-offs, and you’re only as good as you’re last game, so they are going to be dangerous in the post season.”
The last time the two sides met saw Sharks struggle as they lost 91-82 in front of the Setanta TV cameras at the MetroRadio Arena, but Flournoy expects a different Sheffield team to show up on Sunday,
“I think they had a lot of nerves in that game because of the TV cameras, and it’ll be different this time. I think they will be more poised, assertive and cohesive this time.
“Nathan Neisler is playing really well. He’s shooting the ball well, but also he’s started to run the team, and leave Alto Virgil to do his thing. They are going to be formidable opponents, they still have a lot to play for, and they will want to go into the play-offs on a winning run.”
Eagles extended their league form to 16 wins in 17 league games with their third straight overtime victory last week, winning 93-86 at Marshall MK Lions, and Flournoy had praise for the Lions’ team,
“It was a tough game, both teams played extremely well and neither team deserved to lose, we both laid it on the line and could have finished the game off at different times. Vince [Macaulay] did a good job coaching the game, and they really stepped up. It felt like they were playing a league decider, and every team seems to be having a great shooting night against us at the moment.”