Nechells Sports Centre – Saturday 15 November
CoB today faced Sheffield Hallam Sharks, the last of their only run of consecutive home games this season, having won the previous two. Despite the sharks W2 L3 record, it would be foolish to take them lightly, with both their wins having come in Birmingham, against West Brommie and the Mets. (Is that an 1970’s Elton John hit?)
Furthermore, their defeats consist of a concession, then a 12-point loss to Doncaster (who left Nechells with a 26-point win), and last time out against Kingston by a scoreline that, by their own admission, flattered the outfit from Hull. Also, Sheffield’s university team are linked to the BBL franchise of the same name, having provided both the Sharks and the England team with players in the past.
However CoB could prove an equally difficult opponent for them. The team are clicking more and more with each game, and there’s a positive feeling in the air. Coach Wilson would be hoping to keep up the momentum with a positive performance.
Arriving at Nechells with the score at 4-1 thanks to early points from Catlow, I set myself for an easy evening of viewing. Alas, having lost the lead on 5 minutes and not regaining it until just before half-time, it proved to be anything but. The unpredictable Hallam team included Marco Backovic, reported in the online version of local Sheffield newspaper ‘The Star’ today as “one of the country’s hottest young basketball prospects”. (But this article is of course the one that really counts).
Also included was Atiba Lyons, an established former professional, BBL Cup Winner and twice Championship runner-up, now coach of his Sheffield Sharks team in the BBL (that’s British Basketballs equivalent of football’s Premier League, by the way).
It was a surprise therefore to see him appear with the Sheffield Hallam team. I guess, with no scheduled match today (just like the Premier League now I think of it), the 6’6” Brooklyn born 32-year old was included in this university squad as a mature student.
It reminded me of a football match I once tried to organise in my grandparents village in India
Back to the action though. Failure to capitalise on some good early rebound work from Brown left CoB trailing by 5 for the first quarter. Highlights for the period came by way of three pointers from Dawes and Lacey.
City matched Sheffield for most of the second quarter however, with the Sharks lead ranging from 2 to 7 points at various stages, Jarrett still finding his range from free throws. William sunk two 3-pointers, with Dawes helping him reach 12 points for the period. Under-18 starlet Arivelle Trout came on and faced of physical battle straight away, once coming together with team mate Aki, before making a great steal to almost setup Malcolm.
With CoB coming tantalizingly close to stealing the lead, Trout made 2 points to equalise before Lacey replied to a Sharks free-throw with an excellent score from deep, which just failed to earn the full 3 points but edged the home team 35-34 ahead. Game on.
Consecutive scores for Sheffield at the start of the often decisive third quarter gave them back the lead, however with Sharks smelling blood, they did not immediately go for the kill. CoB managed to struggle free from their grip in this tight and low scoring quarter which saw regular misses by both teams including a number of 3 point efforts – but if you don’t buy a ticket, you don’t win the raffle. (A fact I’m well aware after last weeks’ shenanigans). Sheffield were able to keep in touch due to their more successful free-throw conversion rate, to pip CoB 10-13 for the period and go into the final stretch 47-45 up, with the crowd becoming increasingly vocal.
Yes, rugby season has arrived – CoB win a lineout.
Dawes, not for the first time in a match, was not given a foul when expected, and was then penalised himself before having words with the referee. A feisty character, Dawes does however walk the walk. If the steel city produced these sharks then the industrial city produced nothing if not grafters, and in the final quarter, battle ensued.
Early blows were traded as Dawes scored first from deep, for the lead the change hands for the eleventh time during the match. He proceeded to register again from closer in and seemingly embarked on a one man mission to score from every area possible, sinking two free throws before trading three pointers with the visitors.
Jarrett continued the trend with four points, the first by way of an assist from Catlow after he rebounded Williams attempt. In this see-saw encounter, CoB then put the weight firmly on their end, when Lacey assisted Wright, and Dawes who was not finished, put City six points up with less than 3 minutes left on the clock.
Two time-outs were called, with the crowd left biting their nails to shreds. Coach Wilson instructed his reports to employ a finely rehearsed rear-guard formation which the team carried out to perfection, constantly going two-on-one to frustrate the visitors. The Hallam coach, with their One Health club sponsorship logo etched on his shirt, looked increasingly stressed and frustrated with his nine-man line up. Too many performances like this, and Sheffield United won’t be the only club in the city searching for new sponsors and patrons. (Controversial, I know).
With the crowd tense but CoB on the home straight, the visitors conceded fouls in their attempt to regain possession but this only resulted in Birmingham stretching the six-point lead to twelve, seeing out the thrilling final quarter by 27 points to 13, to secure a welcome and thoroughly hard earned victory, 72-60.
Victory is wrapped up
Exhausted from just watching the match like most of those present, I still couldn’t help thinking that the best way to prepare for your next away trip is by edging a ding-dong encounter like this. Tough opposition, the mental strength was required can’t have failed to give the team valuable belief and confidence.
As I left the building later, walking past the Sheffield coach who was discussing the outcome with a couple of his colleagues, I overheard him make a statement which summed it all up for me; “They won five offensive rebounds at once in that quarter”. Praise indeed for CoB – a Team with a capital T, displaying hard work, togetherness and belief. Let the season roll on.
Official scorer stats: Dawes 20; Williams 19; Jarrett 9; Lacey 7; Catlow 6; Malcolm 5; Trout 2; Wright 2; Brown 2.