NEWCASTLE Eagles suffered a rare setback in their pursuit of the BBL league title after being beaten 85-76 by arch-rivals Plymouth in another thriller which had supporters on the edge of their seats at Sport Central, writes PAUL NILSEN.
Adrift by a mammoth 22 points early in the third quarter and seemingly dead and buried, the Eagles came alive with a spectacular run to haul themselves back into the contest and set up a nerve-shredding finale.
However, they just couldn’t get over the hump as Raiders finally exacted revenge for a string of losses to Fab Flournoy’s side this season, including the BBL Cup Final earlier this year and last weekend’s gut-wrenching overtime defeat down in Devon.
Despite their stirring fight-back and Raiders reaching for the self-destruct button at every available opportunity, the Eagles tasted defeat for the first time in 2012 as their winning streak stretching back to late December came to an end.
As the final buzzer sounded – much to the obvious relief of Plymouth head coach Gavin Love, whose team did everything possible to try to throw the win away – the stark reality was that this was only the second time the Eagles had lost in the league all season, and consequently it should only be a minor dent.
Perhaps the really fascinating element to what unfolded was how this result will subsequently feed into the two-legged BBL Trophy Final between the clubs later this month.
While the Raiders now know they can win against their opponents, the late rally by Fab Flournoy’s players could be priceless in reminding Raiders just how much it takes to beat the Eagles.
The home team had started slowly and trailed 12-3. They lacked energy and were in desperate need of a spark, and eventually got one when Charles Smith buried a triple to complete a stunning 9-0 run to tie the game, but the respite was temporary as Raiders took control again in the second quarter.
Lehmon Colbert increased the advantage to 39-27 as Raiders sliced to the hoop with worrying ease, and by half-time the Eagles deservedly trailed 45-31 after some woeful shooting.
Then, when James Jones converted a three-pointer to make it 55-33 early in the second half, it looked to be all over for the hosts.
But led by the energy of Paul Gause and Fab Flournoy, the Eagles came alive to set up a rousing finish. Gause threw down a dunk at the end of the third quarter to send the supporters wild as it brought his team to within 10 points at 66-56 after the Eagles out-scored the visitors, who suddenly looked capable of crumbling, 23-11.
Raiders’ confidence continued to drain away as Joe Chapman made a huge three-pointer to cut the gap to just five points at 68-63. But, despite Smith making it a one-shot game at 74-72, the Eagles couldn’t dodge the bullet and will already be looking forward to matching up with Raiders again very soon.