NEWCASTLE Eagles produced a fabulous team performance to claim a superb victory in Saturday’s BBL Cup semi-final against Scottish Rocks at Crawley’s K2 Arena.
Pride, passion, commitment and heart were shown in abundance as the Eagles booked their place in next month’s cup final, in which they will face Milton Keynes Lions – 91-80 victors over Guildford Heat in Saturday’s other last-four clash – at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena.
It had been a difficult week for coach Fab Flournoy and the club with the shock departure of leading scorer Richard Midgley only four days before Newcastle’s biggest game of the season. But the team responded with a brand of basketball that has been the hallmark of their success over the past few seasons.
Flournoy has on countless occasions spelled out his defensive and team philosophies and this performance vindicated every one of them. Magnificent defence turned into efficient offence was more than the Rocks could cope with as the gutsy Eagles players responded to their coach’s call and put the events of the previous few days behind them and marched onwards.
However, it all looked so different as the game opened. The Eagles were also without the unavailable Brian McCotter and shooting guard Jeremy Hyatt’s knee injury meant he would play no part in the game. Rocks looked in the mood to take advantage as they went into an 8-0 lead.
Flournoy called a time-out and as they emerged from the bench they began to get back into the game. They produced a 12-5 run to get back within one point and then when Rocks responded they produced another 8-2 burst to lead 20-19 after one.
Lynard Stewart was proving a big influence on the game and with Charles Smith showing the silky offence he is renowned for the Eagles pulled out to a 12-point advantage in the second period before a late Rocks run threatened to stall them. However, skipper Andrew Bridge had the last word of the half to take his side into the locker room 40-32 ahead. The Eagles had run only six players in the first half and the question on everyone’s lips was whether they would tire. It certainly looked as if fatigue could be a factor as Rocks came out strong in the third to cut the gap to a single point again. However, with Darius Defoe having his best game of the season and the Eagles defence on top, they rallied again.
A late 6-2 run gave them a 59-56 lead to take into the final 10 minutes. Olu Babalola, who had been restricted by an elbow injury, finally nailed a couple of buckets in the final period to give Newcastle a seven-point lead. The Rocks again closed within two but time was running out. Flournoy sank three and Babalola one as the Eagles closed the game out.
It wasn’t all good news for the Eagles at the weekend as the Lions took the Tynesiders’ top spot in the BBL Championship thanks to a 73-67 success against Plymouth Raiders last night. The win took them two points above Eagles. The Lions have played four more games.
NEWCASTLE EAGLES: Charles Smith 20, Lynard Stewart 16, Andrew Bridge 16.
SCOTTISH ROCKS: Maurice Hampton 15, Moritz Wohlers 14, Rob Yanders 13.