A Paul Gause-inspired Newcastle Eagles delivered a stirring statement of intent by brushing aside the BBL’s form team Sheffield Sharks to book a second successive BBL Cup final berth.
On a night when the Eagles credentials were under the microscope, they produced a bruising second quarter performance to wipe out the Sharks’ slender first leg advantage and answer a few of the questions posed of this developing team.
It was a performance of real quality from the Eagles, who were inspired by a brilliant display from point guard Gause – and this was a performance made even more impressive because they managed it without injured pair Fab Flournoy and Drew Lasker.
Flournoy pulled up in the first quarter and the sight of his hamstring being bandaged will be a worry for Eagles watchers as they head towards a couple of crucial festive fixtures. The discipline and determination they showed in his absence will be some mitigation though.
It all means they will be heading to Birmingham on January 12 looking to wipe out the bitter memory of being beaten by Leicester Riders in the same game last year – and recapture a piece of silverware that can set the tone for the season.
With Scott Martin superb and Gause shaking off an inconsistent first quarter, they looked every inch the title contenders that Fab Flournoy believes they can be. Given the calibre of their opponents, who have soared to the top of the BBL rankings after a superb run of form, this was a message for the rest of the league.
Even a good night had a sting in the tail, however, with Flournoy appearing to pull a hamstring in the first quarter which might mean an injury lay-off over Christmas. The Eagles were already without Drew Lasker, who did not suit up after sustaining a similar injury in training this week.
Those problems aside, this was a night which will have encouraged Flournoy greatly. He wanted to see his team put points on the board and they were able to do that, even if they showed some familiar failings in a nervy first quarter.
You feared the worst when the home side squandered possession needlessly on two separate occasions. First Charles Smith uncharacteristically handed the Sharks a chance to score and then Gause inexplicably turned the ball over to allow Olu Babalola the chance to hit a huge three points shot.
At that point Sharks had the advantage – both on the night and on aggregate – but their 17-16 first quarter lead was to be blown apart in a second show of power and precision.
Having already lost their general Flournoy, there must have been concerns about how this inexperienced team would respond but Gause was simply inspired.
This is a Sharks team that is loathe to concede points but they had no answer to the Eagles’ point-guard as he drove to the basket brilliantly on numerous occasions.
There should be a word for Martin, too, who is becoming the dynamo of this developing team. He did the hard work as he marshalled a superb defensive effort that blocked the Sharks at every turn, even leaving their form man Demitrius Jemison a peripheral figure.
The second quarter stats were astonishing: Eagles won it 26-12 in a flurry of industry and inspiration and they never let go of the momentum built during those ten terrific minutes.
The third quarter saw the Eagles extend their lead before the almost inevitable Sharks rally in the final quarter. But with five players posting double figure scores, this was a team effort that will have delighted Flournoy.
TOP SCORERS – Newcastle Eagles 84 (Gause 20, Cooke 18, Martin 17)
Sheffield Sharks 57 (Holmes 14, Simmons 12, Jemison 11)