WOLVES stars are celebrating despite slipping to an exhausting 91-88 double-overtime defeat in their penultimate regular-season fixture at Sheffield Sharks.
Other results on Sunday mean Worcester Wolves are still sure of a spot in the British Basketball League post-season playoffs.
Wolves now hold seventh place in the table having garnered 13 wins from their 29 matches. Irrespective of the outcomes of remaining fixtures, because of Worcester’s head-to-head superiority, none of the three teams directly beneath them in the standings, Bristol Flyers, Surrey Scorchers and Manchester Giants, can overtake their position.
Wolves appeared in control when holding a double-digit fourth quarter lead and still looked relatively comfortable with a 67-60 cushion with a minute and a half to play. But a late let-down allowed Sheffield to drag the contest into added time.
The visitors had the upper hand in the closing moments of both overtime periods but fragility at the free-throw line kept their hosts in the contest and gave them the chance to snatch an eventual buzzer-beating game-winner.
“It’s a hard loss to take,” said Wolves’ coach Matt Newby. “We showed great resolve and a great deal of resilience for the most part. But when overtime came perhaps tired heads and tired legs can sometimes play a part.
“At critical junctures we missed free throws and gave up offensive rebounds. But on the whole we’re not showing that we’re not competitive, we just need to consistently find a way to fight through the tough stuff.”
The afternoon opened with Mike Parks having to be helped off the court after a collision with Sheffield’s Jeremy Hemsley. His replacement Elijah Burns announced his presence with a three-pointer and twice profited from Jordan Williams’ assists in a 20-20 first quarter.
Another newcomer, University of Worcester student Daniel Johnson-Thompson, also made an immediate impact when converting passes from Maarten Bouwknecht and when blocking a lay-up attempt.
Josh McSwiggan inked the scoresheet three minutes before half-time for a 34-26 Wolves advantage. However the offense now stalled as Sharks closed the gap to 34-31 by the break.
Williams set up further baskets for Burns and sped past defenders to increase his own points tally and aid a 48-43 lead entering the fourth quarter.
More bustling from Williams and output from Lamarr Kimble tightened Worcester’s grip to 58-46 with seven minutes remaining.
However, a blistering ten-point burst from Sharks’ Nicholas Lewis in just a two-minute spell hauled his side back into contention.
By 14 seconds to go Wolves clung to a slender 68-66 lead. After Tola Okiki split a pair of free throws, Sheffield forward Kipper Nicholls was able to connect from distance to extend the afternoon.
There was a similarly deflating close to the first period of overtime for Worcester, and an uplifting one for Sharks, when Kimble missed a late foul shot, meaning an 80-78 advantage was able to be transformed into further overtime by another late Nicholls success.
Just eight seconds were left in the second added period when Kimble stood at the foul-line with two chances to break an 88-88 tie. Both shots went awry and the ball went up-court to Antwon Lillard who prompted home celebrations with a buzzer-beating triple.
Burns led the scoring with 19 points, closely followed by 18 apiece for Williams and Bouwknecht.
Wolves’ final regular-season fixture takes place on Friday (April 23) at the University of Worcester Arena against Newcastle Eagles. The match tips off at 7pm and will be streamed live and for free here.
“There’ll be lots of factors to consider for Friday’s game,” said Newby. “We’ll make decisions about how we approach the game based on whatever will give us the best chance of having success in the playoffs.”