WORCESTER Wolves let an 18-point lead slip to head into the second leg of their BBL Trophy semi-final against Sheffield Sharks with just a two-point advantage.
Wolves were 43-25 ahead at half-time and still held a double-digit cushion in the closing minutes of the game at the English Institute of Sport.
However, a barren final quarter that produced only a single score for the visitors saw Sheffield climb back into contention to end the contest just 62-60 in arrears.
Zaire Taylor led the Wolves’ scorers with 18 points, followed by Will Creekmore with 14 points, while Patrick Horstmann and BJ Holmes top-scored for Sheffield on 17 and 15 respectively.
Wolves centre Will Creekmore began the scoring and point guard Zaire Taylor tallied Worcester’s next four points.
After six minutes and with his side ahead 11-6, Wolves coach Paul James was about to send forward Stefan Djukic into the fray to replace Jamal Williams before rescinding his decision after Williams opened his scoring account.
Younger brother Kai ignited a flurry of three-pointers to close the first quarter with Holmes and Mike Tuck replying for Sheffield and Alex Owumi on target for Wolves.
Horstmann was first off the mark in the second quarter, reducing the Worcester lead to 21-15, before a stunning 18-4 tear placed Wolves firmly in the box seat.
Eight points from Taylor were accompanied by nine from the Williams brothers as their team eased to a comfortable 43-25 interval lead.
The warning signs of a Sheffield comeback were apparent immediately at the re-start. A triple from Holmes was followed by a confident dance to the basket by Zach Gachette.
By midway through the period, the Sharks’ arrears approached single digits at 50-38, before a double of Creekmore scores stretched the lead back out to 59-42 in the last minute of the period.
It was from here where the tables were turned, with the Wolves’ offence stagnating and the Sharks’ confidence soaring.
Djukic fouled Horstmann and had to watch the resultant free throws converted. Gachette then blocked a Taylor attempt and delivered a pass for Holmes to lay in.
Holmes swished home a three-pointer as the last quarter commenced to cut the hosts' deficit to 59-49.
Kai Williams looked to have restored calm when he floated in a long-distance shot, but this was to be his side’s final points, despite more than eight minutes remaining.
Holmes was on the mark again to bring matters to 62-51, a score that would stand until there were four minutes left.
Holmes assisted Tuck to break the drought and then similarly assisted Horstmann. A couple of Taylor free throws went badly astray and the same man saw his next shot attempt blocked before Horstmann once more slammed home a score.
With matters poised at 62-58, frustration grew for Wolves as they saw continued drives to the basket by Taylor rejected and Creekmore fighting tiredness as he battled to break through the Sheffield wall around their basket.
Creekmore’s annoyance could no longer be contained when he voiced his anger to the referees and was penalised with a technical foul, gifting his opponents a couple of free throws which Holmes duly converted.