Eagles at home for final

Newcastle Eagles will defend their BBL Trophy title on Tyneside on March 4 after claiming the franchise's most significant scalp of the season.

Newcastle Eagles will defend their BBL Trophy title on Tyneside on March 4 after claiming the franchise's most significant scalp of the season.

Last night's arduous 58-55 victory at the home of fierce northern rivals Sheffield Sharks sets up a Metro Radio Arena showdown with rookie finalists Plymouth, coached by Newcastle-born Gary Stronach.

And what will please talismanic player coach Fabulous Flournoy most about a nailbiting win against his former club is the fact that a famous triumph in South Yorkshire was secured on the back of the New Yorker's trademark defence.

The Eagles leaked 77 points on their homecourt against Scottish Rocks on Friday night as an 11-game winning streak came to a shuddering halt. But Flournoy demanded nothing less than 100% commitment and focus from his shellshocked players during a painstaking practice and tactics session on Saturday.

And that hard work paid off in spectacular fashion as Newcastle silenced a partisan Pond's Forge crowd with a combination of the clinical finishing and miserly defence which underpinned last season's historic clean sweep.

Yet a franchise-defining fixture began in the worst manner possible for the Eagles as former favourite Peter Scantlebury sent out a starting five determined to attack from the off.

Perhaps acting upon his scouting report from Newcastle's defeat against the Rocks, the man who led England to Commonwealth Games bronze almost 12 months ago appeared to have decided on attack as Sheffield's best form of defence.

With a 26-15 first quarter lead it seemed Scantlebury was well on his way to winning the tactical battle but Flournoy loves nothing more than a challenge against the odds. Newcastle launched second period runs of 8-2 and 9-2 to claw their way back into a nerve-jangling semi-final and the visitors took a one-point lead into the half.

There has been little to separate two of the BBL's northern heavyweights for the past three seasons and an increasingly fraught fixture perfectly illustrated the minute margin dividing two determined rosters. A missed shot here and a turnover there was all it would take to win or lose a thrilling game and with the scores tied at 43-43 in the closing stages of the third period it was impossible to predict the final outcome.

However, at that moment Newcastle launched the decisive tear with six unanswered points to establish a 49-43 lead going into the final quarter. Sheffield's Blake Shelton and Jeff Bonds combined to tie the scores at 55-55 with 40 seconds remaining before Jeremy Hyatt hit back with a two-point shot for the Eagles.

The Sharks lost possession, allowing Tony Dorsey to convert one of two free throws and Shelton rimmed out with the final possession of the game.

Newcastle now host Plymouth as overwhelming favourites to retain the Trophy in the first top flight basketball final at the Metro Radio Arena.

Top scorers - Sheffield: Bonds 17, Cage 11, Shelton 10. Newcastle: Robinson 14, Flournoy 13, Hyatt 12.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer