Mersey Tigers gained revenge for their BBL Cup Final defeat and boosted their league title hopes with a gripping 87-82 victory over rivals Sheffield Sharks.
With the third team in the title battle, Newcastle Eagles, losing to MK Lions, the win puts the Tigers clear at the top of the table with just five games to play.
It was Sheffield’s first visit to Merseyside this season, and owing to the bizarre fixture schedule, the first time the two sides had met in the league this season.
After collapsing to a 93-66 in the BBL Cup Final in January, the Tigers started their revenge mission strongly, opening up a solid 11-2 advantage and despite a Sharks rally, the Tigers ended the first quarter strongly to go in 25-17 in front.
Steve D’Agostino brought back memories of his sensational showing at the final in Birmingham with a fine three-pointer which dug the Sharks back in to the contest but the Tigers hit back and opened up a 12 point lead at 44-32.
A big timeout talk by Sheffield coach Atiba Lyons proved the inspiration for a vital final minute of the first half, as the Sharks hit nine unanswered points to reduce arrears to three at the interval.
The importance of the game was highlighted in a tense second half and the home support thought their side had thrown it away when Ryan Patton gave the Sharks their first lead of the game at 57-56.
The pendulum went on to swing both ways but it required big three-pointers from Andrew Sullivan and Nate Reinking to keep the Tigers in front, 68-65 at the end of the third.
As time ticked on, the Sharks grew in confidence and they established an eight point lead at 82-74 with four minutes on the clock and it looked like they would pick up a vital victory.
But the resilient Tigers weren’t to let their rivals steal a march and big defence, which saw the Sharks frozen out with the ball in hand, enabled them to complete the comeback as the Tigers ended the game on a 13 point run which proved enough for them to pick up the win.
Tafari Toney, who scored 14 points against his former club, said: “The game went back and forth for a long time but in the end it was a nice game.
“We’ve got to keep going now. We’ve got two games at the weekend, and we’ve still got to play Sheffield at their place, which is always a tough game, and then Newcastle, so it’s not over yet.”
The Tigers now hold a two point advantage over both Newcastle and Sheffield, but have to travel to both teams in their final five games, as well as hosting the Sharks again at the ECHO Arena on Tuesday.