Worcester Wolves ended the Newcastle Eagles’ seven-game winning streak with a performance ruthless in its power and precision.
This season’s surprise package had a point to prove following their overtime defeat on Tyneside four months ago and survived a third-quarter scare to close out a huge victory.
Newcastle’s defeat ended hopes of lifting another piece of silverware following last season’s winless campaign.
And the Eagles must now rely on success in the league or the play-offs to end an increasingly worrying barren run.
Chasing an eighth successive win since surrendering the BBL Cup to old foes Leicester in mid-January, the men in black had the chance to cement their position as the hottest team in British basketball.
Victories against five of their top seven rivals had seen Fabulous Flournoy’s men secure second spot in the league and head into a potentially mouthwatering Trophy quarter-final oozing confidence.
With the league series tied at 1-1 – and next weekend’s decider looming large – this was an opportunity for both Newcastle and Worcester to lay down a marker heading into the business end of the most fascinating BBL season in years.
Paul Gause made good on his pledge to play against the in-form Wolves despite carrying a troublesome hamstring injury and the lightning-quick playmaker was introduced midway through a feisty first quarter.
Both sides clashed with just seven minutes on the clock with the referees struggling to police an ugly fracas that ultimately led to four foul shots in favour of the Eagles.
However, the hosts appeared unnerved by Worcester’s physical approach and the league leaders leapt out to a 30-20 lead heading into the second period.
It was time for Newcastle to put their Trophy credentials on the line and slowly but surely a franchise synonymous with success in the competition clawed their way back into contention.
Dependable duo Charles Smith and Darius Defoe went point for point in a bid to haul the Eagles level but Zaire Taylor was in ominous form for Worcester – hitting 18 first-half points as the visitors maintained a seven-point lead heading into the half.
One area of concern for Flournoy en route to the locker room was Scott Martin’s struggles inside. Newcastle’s Mr Consistency had managed just one point and six boards in 14 minutes of first-half action with opposite number Will Creekmore dominating the paint.
The Eagles required Martin to man up in order to exert some pressure and once the US star went head to head with Stefan Djukic it was game on. Two blocks and a further two boards inside the opening three minutes of the second half swung the momentum in the hosts’ favour.
And when Martin finished under pressure in the sixth minute of the third period Newcastle had suddenly opened up a 53-50 advantage.
Predictions of a Trophy thriller were ringing true with the top-flight’s top two engaged in a bruising battle for a Final Fours berth.
This was classic stuff inside Northumbria University’s noisy Sport Central with a repeat of November’s nailbiting clash between two fierce rivals a reassuring reality. The Eagles took a four-point lead into the fourth period but Worcester weren’t done yet.
A stunning 16-point swing in the Wolves’ favour put Paul James’ men in firm control with 6mins 30secs remaining.
Gause fouled out with two minutes on the clock and Flournoy’s men facing a mountain to climb. It proved an insurmountable challenge on a cruel night for Newcastle and their deflated fans.
Newcastle: Defoe 23, Smith 17, Gause 11.
Worcester: Taylor 24, J Williams 14, Creekmore 17.