NEWCASTLE Eagles fell to a third loss on the bounce when they were downed 96-81 by Cheshire Jets at Sport Central after once again opting to leave three of their star players on the side-lines.
Having omitted the prolific combination of Charles Smith, Andy Thomson and Joe Chapman at Leicester 48 hours earlier to rest minor niggles, the Eagles’ strategy of resting their thoroughbreds continued.
Once again it opened the door for some of the less experienced players to grab precious court-time although ultimately it was the quality of the electric 26-point Paul Gause and excellent double-double of 16 points and 14 rebounds by Darius Defoe which carried the fight to Cheshire.
The Eagles started sluggishly as the visitors opened up with seven of the first eight points in the game to move ahead but any fears of an early blowout were eased as Andrew Bridge sunk a three-pointer to get the scoreboard ticking over.
In fact, it sparked a 9-2 run for the hosts with a dunk by the energetic Joel Madourie putting them in the lead and there was even more to cheer moments later when local teenager Jack Wilson came into the game and scored a basket within three seconds of his home debut.
But the good work was undone when Cheshire began to take advantage of some slack defence as they recorded a 17-6 run either side of the first-quarter break and it prompted a time-out by Eagles assistant coach Dave Forrester.
At 39-26, it looked a little bleak but Paul Gause found his range with back to back triples.
And it proved the catalyst for a spectacular run as the Eagles scored the next 14 points without reply to somehow manoeuvre themselves back in front.
However, as the teams left the court at the break it was Jets who held the upper hand at 49-45.
And they extended their superiority to 62-53 after an explosive dunk by Adam Brown as the Eagles threatened to implode in the third quarter as they had in their previous game at Leicester.
Team Northumbria’s Jack Thompson came into the game and made an instant impression with a big three and the place erupted when a jubilant Darius Defoe then hit the rarest of three-pointers right on the shot-clock buzzer.
The Jets then made another run and at 75-63 with only seconds left of the third quarter, Fab Flournoy and his team looked like they might have hit the rocks but Paul Gause buried a three to cut the gap to single digits heading into the final period.
As hard as they tried during the last ten minutes, the Eagles just couldn’t get over the hump as the Jets cruised to a comfortable win although there was another home debut for young Luke King.
The Eagles wrap up their regular season at Guildford Heat tomorrow and fans will be hoping they are able to turn the style back on during the play-offs next weekend when the big names return – something which may be easier said than done.
NEWCASTLE EAGLES Gause 26, Defoe 16, Madourie 16
CHESHIRE JETS Williams 29, Brown 21, O'Reilly 19