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Basketball: Lewis and Duck fire Towers to title

LONDON TOWERS were good enough to finish only fourth in the league this season, but last night they took the Budweiser Championship play- off title 82-71 against a Thames Valley Tigers team who had lost their playmaker Casey Arena with a knee injury in Saturday's semi-final win over Manchester Giants.

Arena, on crutches and watching from the bench after wrenching ligaments, saw his team-mates threaten to achieve the impossible for over half the game.

Towers trailed 39-32 at half-time, despite the efforts of Randy Duck, Danny Lewis and Martin Gottfried to smother Tigers' makeshift backcourt of Lee Walker and Mark Jackson.

Before Saturday's semi-final, when he played 15 minutes following Arena's injury, Jackson had averaged only five minutes per game. But the 21-year- old lacked nothing in confidence, even though his club did not have a shirt bearing his name for Saturday's semi. That was remedied last night when Tigers were bidding to win the final for the first time in four attempts.

Jackson's first scoring attempt was a rushed three-point miss, but when the ball immediately came back, he shot again and scored. His second three- pointer bailed Tigers out of a messy offence after 30 seconds to give them a 28-23 lead.

Tigers' cutting edge in the first half came from Bryan Balser and John McCord. Balser hit 13 first-half points, including two threes and McCord's 12 points featured three ring-bending dunks.

McCord and Jason Siemon opened Tigers' biggest lead at 43-32 after the restart, only for Towers' response to turn the game. A 10-0 spurt in a 22-5 surge to the title gave them a third- quarter lead of 54-48 as Lewis and Duck finally took control to force four steals from Jackson.

The Sharks and the Giants were left fighting for the scraps as the losers' play-off illustrated that under next season new format it could count for nothing even if a team dominates the league for eight months.

The league champions, Sheffield, finished 18 points ahead of London Towers in the table, but lost 85-78 to the fourth-placed team in Saturday's semi- final.

The runners-up, Manchester, finished the regular season 12 points clear of third-placed Thames Valley, but went out 79-76 to the Tigers in the second semi-final.

Sheffield and Manchester lost only the chance to crown their successful season with the domestic game's most glamorous but least meaningful title.

In the play-off for third place, a game neither team envisaged playing in, Sheffield raised the intensity level by recovering from 10 points down at the end of the first quarter to lead 47-43 at the interval.

The Sharks held the edge in a tight third quarter then took control with a 17-0 fourth quarter run, including 10 points from Todd Cauthorn, to win 98-88.

LEADING SCORERS (Play-off final) Tigers: Balser 22; Siemon 17; McCord 16. Towers: Leak 20; Lewis 17; Duck 16; Henlan 15. (Play-off semi-finals): Tigers: Siemon 19, Walker 11, Balser 11, McCord 21. Giants: Dorsey 28, White 22, Holley 13. Sharks: Myers 28, Payne 20, Johnson 15. Towers: Duck 21, Leak 19, Henlan 19, Morton 14. (Third-place play-off): Sharks: Conlan 27, Myers 20, Cauthorn 19, McKinney 13. Giants: Dorsey 29, White 26, Holley 12.