It is very rare that Fabulous Flournoy calls it wrong. However, a woeful Manchester Giants made a mockery of the New Yorker’s pre-match assertion that Jeff Jones’ side ‘are undoubtedly better than their record suggests’.
On this evidence two league wins are two wins too many for a franchise routed by ruthless Newcastle. With one eye on tomorrow’s cup quarter-final at Glasgow, the Eagles were desperate to rediscover their rhythm and sharpen their focus.
Two games in three weeks – against minnows Huddersfield Heat and BBL whipping boys Surrey United – had barely kept the men in black ticking over.
And in many ways player-coach Flournoy must have hoped Manchester would bring their A-game to Sport Central – creating the competitive environment his players needed and craved before their Scottish test.
Heading north of the border on the back of a bruising battle against the Giants was just what the doctor ordered for a roster badly lacking meaningful match practice. Manchester failed to oblige in spectacular fashion.
A frantic first quarter at least saw Jeff Jones’ men pick up where they left off the previous weekend – working the neat plays that undid a talented Plymouth Raiders.
Newcastle edged a tight opening period 21-14 but a scrappy restart saw Manchester lose their cool – a controversial technical foul left Jones fuming and allowed the hosts to open up an 11-point lead.
Charles Smith had posted 14 points within the opening 13 minutes and the Eagles’ veteran was clearly eyeing a game-high haul as space opened up beyond the arc.
The introduction of pantomime villain Yorick Williams – a controversial figure always likely to spark a lively reaction from the homecourt fans – added a brief spark of energy to the labouring Giants.
However, Newcastle had moved into cruise control long before the ex-Leicester forward was allowed to make an impact and a 46-29 Eagles’ lead at the half flattered the visitors.
Any hopes of a thorough workout before their Glasgow showdown had been dashed with Manchester lacking consistency, cohesion and a clear cutting edge.
Jones emerged for the second half still engaged in a heated debate with the match officials – the technical offence that had handed the Eagles the initiative still irking the Giants’ experienced playcaller.
In reality Manchester’s predicament had little to do with the referees and everything to do with poor decision making and predictable offence. Playing into Newcastle’s hands, the visitors only served to pave the way for a Sport Central procession. As Smith sat back it was the turn of big men Scott Martin and Darius Defoe to make their presence felt – the robust duo registering double figures long before the fourth quarter.
The Giants, by contrast, couldn’t buy a basket. Missing lay-ups, free-throws and almost every offensive assignment, the feeble visitors felt the full force of the Eagles’ title ambitions – outscored 30-11 during a dismal third period.
The watching Rocks scouts will surely have left early. This was not a night to remember for anything other than Manchester’s utter, abject indifference. Make no doubt about it: the Eagles head to the Emirates Arena tomorrow undercooked and under pressure with a bizarre quirk of the fixture calendar potentially costing Flournoy’s men dearly.
This glorified training session was no way to prepare for a cup quarter-final against fierce rivals Glasgow. Raising their game is the bare minimum required of Newcastle if they are to secure a semi-final berth but the required step up will be significant against Sterling Davis’ unforgiving homecourt clan.