Esh Group Eagles Newcastle marched on in The BBL Championship with their eight-straight victory on Friday night over DBL Sharks Sheffield whom many consider to be a major rival for the Championship, writes Jeff King.
But, as always seems the case these days, their 100 – 93 victory was not achieved without fourth quarter thrills and excitement as The Eagles who twice led by as many as 19 points in the second and third quarters saw Sheffield claw back the deficit in the final ten minutes.
The visitors twice got within a single point after a terrific fight-back and Newcastle wobbled but five late free-throws from Jaysean Paige and Saah Nimley and an emphatic two-handed dunk with the last play of the game from the hugely impressive Zarko Jukic preserved the home side’s 100% league record.
“It was a great win; a great win and we can’t forget that. But we also can’t forget the way Sheffield came back and nearly made it a bad loss and it would have been a bad loss to take.”
“But we didn’t take the loss we took the win and, like every game we play, that’s the aim and it’s good that we got out of it with another tough win against a side that not many will beat and where as tough and competitive as they always seem to be.”
The words of Head Coach Fab Flournoy as he assessed a game where his charges once again put the home fans through the ringer in those final five minutes after largely dominating the game throughout.
The Eagles led from start to finish without a single lead change on the night and were out to a strong start when Kai Williams tripled to give his side a double-digit advantage early on and force Sharks in to a time-out. From there Flournoy’s side cruised to a sixteen-point lead by the break.
They maintained that until that final quarter comeback by Sheffield which they eventually repelled and pulled away again. Something Flournoy picked up on and was keen to drill home.
“At times we’re great and at times we just seem to lose rhythm as quickly as we gained it. That’s what frustrating about this team. But, it’s only been eight games and we’re still learning to understand each other on and off court.”
“I just feel that when we get the rhythm right, and in all games, there are times when we do, we have to learn to maintain that rhythm throughout and take full advantage of it. Tonight, Sheffield take some of the credit for taking us out of it, but we have to learn from that.”
“It may come early, it may come later. It seems to differ every game and every quarter from when it comes but when it does we have to learn to maintain it.”
The Eagles were led by the mercurial Paige who had 23 of his game high 28 points in that dominant first-half by the home side. Sharks did seem to find an answer for him second half, but others stepped up including Jukic who added 6 rebounds and 5 blocked shots to his points.
Kai Williams was as consistent as ever and there was a very encouraging debut from his brother Jamal who showed in the shot periods he played that he has a lot to offer this team with some smart plays.
The Eagles may well have timed the signing of Jamal Williams perfectly. They now head out on the road for three tough away games. Next weekend they take on Bristol and Plymouth to round out the month before starting December away in Glasgow.
The first two of those games see Eagles without Jukic who is on national duty with Denmark. It will mean a re-shuffle of the pack but that’s why The Eagles run deep this season as they continue to lead the way in The BBL.