NEWCASTLE Eagles remain firmly in the box seat in the BBL title race after a majestic 39 points from sharpshooter Joe Chapman helped fire them to victory in a classic encounter with fellow challengers Worcester Wolves.
With the Eagles’ only league loss of the campaign having come at the hands of the Wolves back in December, it had looked for long periods on Saturday night that they might fall victim to their BBL Championship rivals once again.
But, in an absorbing and pulsating encounter which was a terrific advert for British basketball, Eagles coach Fab Flournoy and his players showed remarkable levels of resilience as the firepower of Chapman and a game-winning shot by 28-point Charles Smith helped record a superb 102-100 success.
A three-pointer from Chapman had given the Eagles the lead at 95-98 with just over 90 seconds remaining and it looked like they might ease clear, but the game then became tied 100-100 with 25 seconds left in a thrilling finale.
Both sides had opportunities to win the game, but a Smith basket with 11 seconds to go gave the Eagles a 100-102 lead.
However the job wasn’t quite done and they had to nervously hold their breath as Wolves forward Tommy Freeman launched a last ditch three-point attempt with four seconds remaining in a bid to snatch the win away from them.
But thankfully for the Eagles and their travelling fans, it fell short and they held on for the all-important victory to open up a six-point gap at the top of the table and deliver what was quite possibly a killer blow to their rivals’ own title dreams.
The win was made more impressive by the fact that the Eagles rarely found themselves in front and at one stage in the second quarter, they trailed by nine points at 32-23.
In fact, they were still in real trouble and still on the back foot at 55-47 during half-time.
It was during the middle of the third quarter when the visitors really began to make hay and finally looked like they might be able to extract revenge for losing to the Wolves on their home floor in a pre-Christmas shocker.
In what proved to be an important period of the game, they managed to slow down the momentum of the Wolves with an incredible four successive triples which put them 69-66 ahead and gave them the belief they needed to push on for the win.
The victory ensured it was a truly wonderful weekend for the club who only 24 hours earlier had propelled themselves to within a whisker of the BBL Trophy Final with a commanding first leg semi-final win at Sheffield Sharks.
If they do seal the deal as expected and advance, they will set up what could be a fascinating repeat of last month’s BBL Cup Final after Plymouth Raiders booked their spot last night in dramatic circumstances with an overtime win against Milton Keynes Lions.
WORCESTER: Prezzie-Blue 27, Freeman/Gordon 22
NEWCASTLE: Chapman 39, Smith 28, Thomson 13