A tide of euphoria engulfed a triumphant Sport Central last night as Newcastle Eagles produced a special effort to beat Leicester Riders and book their ticket for yet another showpiece BBL Play-off final.
Even for the most successful club in British basketball, there has been little to rival the sheer outpouring of emotion on the final buzzer as Fab Flournoy continued to master his art of defying the odds.
Down by 22 points during the first leg, even the most optimistic fan couldn’t have envisaged the game announcer declaring proudly that tickets for Wembley Arena were on sale with immediate effect in the club shop.
Yet amid the backdrop of high fives, bear hugs and standing ovations, that is exactly the message which was booming out on a rousing occasion which will live long in the memory.
These clubs are no strangers to serving up epics, but the magnitude of this one was encapsulated by the reaction of Flournoy and his players who knew they had climbed a mountain. Flournoy described it as a very big one – strong words for someone who has climbed a few in his time.
Both teams deserved plaudits. It was phenomenal and had so many twists and turns that it was little wonder everyone courtside were hanging on to each other for support, such was the nerve- shredding tension.
Requiring a 12-point win to advance, the Eagles got exactly what they needed – well eventually. The fans were even treated to five minutes of overtime. Or maybe that was best described as torture for those whose hearts couldn’t stand it and sought sanctuary in the foyer.
Having needed to make a statement of intent from the outset, the Eagles did so with real verve and aggression.
Within 11 minutes they erased the 11-point deficit thanks mainly to Charles Smith and Darius Defoe, who helped them into a 27-16 lead.
Riders hit back leading up to the interval but after regrouping in the locker room, the Eagles were soon back in the ascendancy as the fans rejoiced in seeing Drew Lasker dunk his team into the lead in the tie.
The Eagles went up 61-46 but then hit a potentially fatal drought for almost five minutesas the momentum swung vigorously back and forth.
Eventually recovering, they looked like sealing it when Paul Gause completed a great move to the basket with 90 seconds remaining.
But it wasn’t to be as Riders forced overtime, with Gause subsequently looking like he had been fouled on the last play of the scheduled 40 minutes.
Crucially, having missed a glut of free-throws, the Eagles found their touch in the extra period and it made a world of difference as theykept pace with the visitors before just edging ahead when it matteredmost.
There was even time for one late twist as Jorge Calvo looked like breaking Eagles’ hearts in the last seconds.
But he missed at the basket and as Cooke hugged the resulting rebound like it was a baby he had saved from falling, Sport Central erupted like it arguably never quite has before.
Newcastle: Defoe 25, Cooke 18, Smith 16
Leicester: Couisnard 20, Sullivan 17, Hassan 15