NEWCASTLE Eagles survived a second-half collapse to seal a thrilling 103-94 overtime win at title rivals Plymouth Raiders in a classic match last night.
Having swept the Devon club aside last month during the BBL Cup Final in Birmingham, Fab Flournoy and his players had braced themselves for a backlash as Raiders told everyone who wanted to listen how they would extract their revenge.
While they ultimately failed – as the Eagles delivered another crushing psychological blow to sneak home – they came mightily close to taking an unlikely win which had looked impossible after a dominant first-half by the visitors.
The league leaders dampened the initial thirst for revenge with real aplomb by taking the sting out of the home team with almost instant effect as they manoeuvred their way into a 16-8 lead.
By the end of the first quarter they had extended their advantage to a double digit margin at 31-21 thanks to a nice basket on the buzzer by Andy Thomson, and little changed during the second quarter as they continued to keep Raiders at arm‘s length.
At the interval, the Eagles held a commanding 55-38 lead and few predicted they would soon implode and almost throw the game away completely when they returned to the court to watch their 17-point dominance ebb away completely.
Raiders made slow progress in erasing the arrears during the third period, only cutting the gap to 11 but they had the Eagles on the ropes in the final quarter when they posted a stunning 19-6 run to take the lead.
Looking tired and destined to slip to their second loss of the season, it looked almost inevitable the second-half momentum would carry Raiders to a fine victory and one they would enjoy greatly.
But, much to their dismay, it was their BBL Cup Final tormentor, Charles Smith, who stepped up to save the day for the Eagles as he drove a dagger into Plymouth hearts by sinking a huge three-pointer in the dying seconds to force overtime.
It handed the Eagles an opportunity to regroup and they certainly did that, seizing on their second chance with gusto as the pendulum swing back their way in a gripping encounter, played out in front of a terrific atmosphere.
They noticeably stepped up their defence and drew on every last drop of their reserves to finally put the shackles on the dangerous Anthony Rowe and Jeremy Bell as the Raiders began to lose their grip on the proceedings. It helped the Eagles dig out a priceless win in their pursuit of the BBL Championship title.
And, of course, it adds even more intrigue and spice to the forthcoming BBL Trophy Final against Raiders next month.