Credentials tested as Newcastle Eagles thrown to Sharks

Newcastle Eagles' title credentials will be tested in a cup match as they take on contenders Sheffield Sharks

Paul Gause of Newcastle Eagles
Paul Gause of Newcastle Eagles

Newcastle Eagles have still to prove they can mix it with the British Basketball League’s big boys. So owner Paul Blake will be interested to see how they cope when they are thrown to the Sharks tomorrow.

The Eagles take on Sheffield Sharks in the first leg of the BBL Cup semi-finals in South Yorkshire.

As well as offering the chance to reach the first cup final of the season, Blake thinks it will be a good test of his team’s character.

The Eagles made up for October’s defeat to Worcester Wolves when they won at Sport Central at the weekend.

However, they are the only one of the four title contenders Fabulous Flournoy’s side have faced this season.

Sheffield will be the second.

Blake said: “It is a fairly new team so it’s still looking to build confidence. You could see that on Friday.

“Just getting the win will have been a huge confidence boost because it was a nervous night for us.

“We nailed four three(-pointer)s in a row and that got us over the line.

“The atmosphere was just immense – the roof was almost coming off!

“Once we’d managed to tie the game overtime was not an issue for us. Paul Gause put away two threes in a row and we ended up winning by 12.

“It shows there’s no lack of confidence against mid-table teams, and we’re scoring heavily in those games.

“It’s when we come up against the likes of Worcester, that’s when we’re finding it more difficult.

“A lot of those games are still to come for us. We haven’t played Sheffield, Leicester or Plymouth yet, so there’s more confidence to build.

“We have Worcester to play once (in the league) so that’s ten games which are going to be real tough contests.”

What alters the picture is the fact the title is – at this stage at least – being contested by so many teams.

Leaders Newcastle, London Lions, Sheffield, Worcester and Leicester Riders have pulled away from the pack when it comes to the column Blake and Flournoy take most notice of – defeats.

Blake added: “I can’t remember the last time there were five teams changing places at the top of the league.

“I was taking the negative stance on Friday, saying before the game it could be the end for us if we lost a third time.

“Actually, the other guys are all going to take points off each other. You just don’t want to be the team with three defeats already at this stage of the season. Leicester only lost three times in the whole of last season.

“If you were to split those ten big games we have left 50-50, that would immediately leave us with seven defeats this season and you wouldn’t win the league with that in years gone by.

“At this point I’d find it hard to see anybody winning the league with three defeats already unless it was us, but it’s such a strange league you never know.”

Leicester are at Plymouth in the other semi-final, which is also tomorrow, setting up a possible repeat of last season’s final.

Blake said: “If we get through this one it looks like the chances are we might get Leicester in the final.

“There’s every chance the final could be the same as last year’s, which would be a great challenge from Fab’s perspective.

“In a lot of respects losing that final really affected that team, so there’s a lot of wrongs to be put right.”

The second leg of the tie is at Sport Central on December 13.

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