A DEADLY three-point shooting display from Damon Huffman and a memorable double-double performance by Darius Defoe propelled Newcastle Eagles to an 89-80 success against title rivals Surrey Heat last night.
Fab Flournoy’s side shrugged off the absence of injured talisman Charles Smith to record a vital victory at Sport Central.
With both teams chasing current leaders Leicester Riders, and each having suffered two league losses so far this season, the winner of the contest was always going to give their respective title prospects a real shot in the arm.
And, perhaps rather inevitably, the contest came down to crunch time.
However, it wasn’t Huffman who delivered the dagger three-point shot inside the last minute to make the game safe.
This arrived from the most unlikely source possible, as Sport Central erupted as if the BBL Championship itself had been won when Darius Defoe drained the rarest of triples inside the last minute.
The centre possesses enough fingers on one hand to count the number of times he has even attempted a three-point shot over the last decade or so.
But it more or less decided the outcome of a fascinating and at times bad-tempered game which ended in an ugly confrontation and near-mass brawl on the final buzzer.
Defoe didn’t just make the decisive shot to break Heat resistance, he also finished with a stellar double-double of 21 points and 13 rebounds, although it was arguably Huffman who truly underpinned the victory with key shots when the Eagles needed them most.
He finished with a 26-point haul, including a sparkling six triples, to continually keep the Eagles on the front foot, and also stop Heat from building any significant momentum.
It was a factor particularly important against opponents full of confidence and possessing the player of the season so far in the ever-dangerous Chavis Holmes.
The Eagles held the upper hand during the first half, but Heat worked their way back into things during the third quarter to level the scores at 54-54.
However, the visitors still failed to defend Huffman, who delivered yet another three-pointer to put the Eagles 61-57 in front.
And, they were able to stay in the lead for the remainder of the game because of an excellent cameo during the final quarter by Anthony Martin, whose energy and contribution at both ends of the court helped the Eagles establish a precious double-figure lead in the closing minutes.
Martin played some good defence and also flourished offensively with some nice fast-break scores and incisive moves to the basket which helped his team ease their way over the finishing line.
The next test will come tomorrow when Flournoy and his team make the long journey to the capital to face a London Lions team who have been in red-hot form of late on their home floor.
In an ideal world, Smith would test out his calf since his firepower may well be needed.
But, having seen off the Heat, it’s more likely Smith will again miss out, as the Eagles try to sustain the pressure on table-topping Leicester, who face a difficult road trip to take on Plymouth.
NEWCASTLE: Huffman 26, Defoe 21, Maddox 14.
SURREY: C Holmes 20, Cricelli 17, T Holmes 14.