(Newcastle win 192-180 on aggregate)
PLAY-OFF basketball can be harsh and can make heroes of players. All of this was true on Saturday night in Guildford.
As the staff at the Surrey Sports Park tidied away the debris of another Saturday night game, The Heat were reflecting on their season coming to an abrupt end while the Eagles’ Drew Lasker is just getting started.
Lasker was a huge reason for the Eagles progressing to the semi-final stage of the BBL play-offs as he joint top-scored for his side in his best performance to date in a Newcastle vest helping condemn Guildford to a summer of planning and contemplation for next season’s campaign.
The ex-Plymouth Raiders’ influence on this tie had started with a big fourth quarter in the first leg on Friday night at Sport Central when Newcastle’s 104 – 97 win gave them a seven-point advantage to take with them to Guildford on Saturday. And then he was rewarded with a place in the starting five and he totally justified Fab Flournoy’s decision with a scintillating effort.
Not that Lasker was alone in his endeavours. Reggie ‘Action’ Jackson will surely appear in most of The Heat’s players nightmares in the weeks ahead. Having plundered them for 33 points in a victorious road league game towards the end of the season, he added 28 points on Friday and was at it again in Surrey with another 26-point haul.
But, while basketball is a game where points matter, the tangible contributions and support from Darius Defoe, Kadiri Richard, Charles Smith, Andrew Bridge and Flournoy can’t be overlooked as the Eagles’ team march on in the play-offs.
Seven points advantage is small in terms of a two-legged basketball tie and that was made apparent as Heat swept in to an early 10 – 2 lead on Saturday to lead on aggregate with barely four minutes gone in the contest. It was then a question of how The Eagles would respond as it became a one-game series. With Smith struggling to get into an early rhythm his side did not match Heat’s energy and passion. Clearly Guildford felt they had a shot at what would have been an upset win as they had levelled the tie after the first ten minutes with a 24 – 17 advantage.
The second period saw Guildford increase that lead and move ahead overall by six when they took the largest lead of the night at 44 – 31 midway through the quarter. Jackson though has taken Newcastle and the BBL by storm since his late arrival following Joe Chapman’s injury.
It was he who brought his side back and was keeping them in the game as he netted 12 points personal. The Eagles reduced the deficit but Heat led by 1 on aggregate and 48 – 40 on the night.
Flournoy called for more defensive intensity, more aggressive offence and a will to ensure that his players’ season didn’t end on Saturday. He got the response he wanted from Lasker. Supported well by Defoe who was slowly getting in to the game, the ‘new boy on the block’ brought his talents to bare.
Ten points personal and the gap was cut to 64 – 59 on the night and Eagles were back in front overall. Then, came a huge last effort from the team in the final ten minutes when they drove a plucky Guildford side into submission.
Superb defence, controlled smart offence and a 29 – 19 period had the Eagles bench and small band of loyal travelling supporters celebrating a job well done as the seconds ticked down on the night’s entertainment.
So, part 1 of the Play-Off journey is complete and next weekend The Eagles will move on to part 2 of their quest to be ‘The Last Man Standing’ and win the final piece of BBL Silverware on offer this season. Who they will play next in the semi-final will not be determined until after all of this weekend’s play-off games are decided.
But one thing is for sure, whoever it is will find The Eagles in confident mood and revitalised by a fast-improving Drew Lasker.
TOP SCORERS – Newcastle : Reggie Jackson and Drew Lasker 26, Darius Defoe and Charles Smith 12. Guildford : Martelle McLemore 18, Ralph Hegamin13, Julius Joseph 12.