The familiar face of Drew Sullivan inflicted one of the most stomach-churning losses imaginable on Newcastle Eagles as they gifted Leicester Riders another BBL Cup success in front of 9,000 fans at the National Indoor Arena.
With Fab Flournoy and his players seemingly on course to take victory and end their silverware drought, Sullivan took over the game and, in a dramatic conclusion, inspired his team to a stunning 72-69 win.
With the Riders 67-56 down with only four minutes to play, the Great Britain captain showed his class by scoring 11 points in a row to bring his sides back from the dead, eventually claiming a double-double of 16 points and 10 boards to land the MVP award.
The late collapse from the Eagles was hard to watch as they fell to their third successive major final defeat to the Riders, who undoubtedly cemented their status as the undisputed kingpins of British basketball.
In a touch of déjà vu from two years ago when the Eagles were crowned Cup winners, it was incredible defensive intensity and fine play from Charles Smith and Paul Gause which looked to have sealed a place back on top of the podium.
However, Gause fouled out with six minutes left and it proved to be the turning point of the contest.
His team sorely missed his intensity and sparkling plays at the hoop as they hit a major drought in crunch time, which the Riders capitalised on.
The loss was particularly tough on Smith, who fired 27 points and even had the opportunity to force overtime with the last shot of the game – but fatigue, foul trouble and Sullivan combined to deny Eagles the win.
Smith said after the final buzzer: “ It is now about how we can pick ourselves up from this.
“We had the defensive intensity, but we didn’t adjust well enough to what was being thrown at us towards the end of the game.”
Flournoy was virtually inconsolable after last year’s loss on the same court and, while this one seemed to be even more gut-wrenching, he was quick to hand the plaudits to Riders and his opposite number Rob Paternostro.
He insisted: “Their defence is also formidable, as is the make-up of their team and their depth which helped them down the stretch.
“Our failure to make plays and also our energy completely dropping right when it mattered really did hurt us.”
Few if anybody could have predicted such an epic twist when watching the play unfold early in the fourth quarter.
While the fouls were mounting, it looked simply inevitable the Eagles would be good enough to get the job done and see it through.
The Riders were not only down by double-digits and drifting towards defeat, they were also missing influential point guard Ant Downing, shooting the ball poorly and simply atrocious from the free-throw line.
Yet in spite of all these factors going the way of Newcastle, the belated but brilliant contribution of Sullivan was enough to tip the scales in favour of the Riders and leave the shell-shocked Eagles reflecting on why they allowed an absolutely glorious opportunity to slip so painfully through their fingers.
Leicester Riders: Couisnard 18, Sullivan 16, Calvo 13
Newcastle Eagles: Smith 27, Cooke 13, Martin 12