Leeds Force v Esh Group Eagles Newcastle
Where and when:
Carnegie Sports Centre, 7.30pm Friday 4 December
Leeds Force get another shot at becoming the first team this season to beat Esh Group Eagles Newcastle when they meet in the BBL Championship on Friday.
Eagles extended their unbeaten start to an incredible 14 games last weekend, with victories against Manchester Giants and Glasgow Rocks.
Force have already been beaten once during that run, but Matt Newby’s men are confident they can spring a surprise as they are enjoying an impressive campaign themselves.
Back-to-back defeats against Cheshire Phoenix and Worcester Wolves have dampened that mood slightly, but three straight wins before that have provided the basis for a campaign of progress.
And with Eagles in BBL Cup Semi-Final action against Phoenix on Sunday, Force will aim to take advantage of any loss in focus from the reigning champions.
Last time they met:
Esh Group Eagles Newcastle 78 Leeds Force 52 (BBL Championship, Sport Central, 25 October 2015)
Eagles: WWWWWW
Three Points:
  • Eagles have won all six BBL meetings between these teams, by an average of 23.7 points
  • Eagles are the highest-scoring team in the BBL, with 94.92 points-per-game, while Force are the lowest-scoring with 68.31
  • Eagles point guard Rahmon Fletcher was named in the latest BBL All-Star Five, his fourth selection of the season, more than any other player
What they say:
Force centre Zak Wells: “It was a tough loss to Worcester, although as a team we were very happy with how we performed and how we competed. We started the game very well and we were never out of the fight with them. We can take a lot of positives from that game moving forward.
“Personally, I think consistency is what we want to build on. We have quarters where we are very good and then we sometimes let it slip the next quarter. So just trying to maintain a high level for the full 40 minutes is key for us. If we can do that, especially on the defensive end, I believe we can compete with any of the top teams.
“Newcastle have started the season extremely well and I credit them for that. We know we are going up against a great team on Friday so we all need to be prepared. In previous games we have had spells of good defence against them, which caused them some problems. So it’s all going to start on the defensive end of the floor. If we can cause them problems and then translate their mistakes into our offence I don’t see why we can’t be in the game with them.”
Eagles guard Drew Lasker: “We could easily have the mind-set of focusing on Sunday, which is the Semi-Final, but we are looking at Leeds right now. Sunday will come, but we have got to make sure we get this win against Leeds.
“Leeds are probably one of the bigger surprises of the league this year. They appear to be getting better and have an identity. One thing about them is that they are going to come out and play hard every night and if you play hard every night, anything can happen.
“We know what to expect from them. We know we are going to have to play with a lot of energy to match them.
“They are a little bit more balanced last year. Whereas last year everything went through their point guard [James McCann], and if he wasn’t on his A-game they were struggling, this year they have three-point shooting with (Louis) Sayers, they’ve got inside play with their bigs and (Rob) Marsden is putting his hard hat on and doing what he does and I think that’s what’s made them better, that they have more options.”
Cheshire Phoenix v Esh Group Eagles Newcastle (CUP)
Where and when:
Cheshire Oaks Arena, 5.30pm Sunday 6 December
Esh Group Eagles Newcastle must overcome a fired up Cheshire Phoenix if they are to reach their fifth consecutive BBL Cup Final.
The reigning champions’ incredible start to the season shows no signs of slowing down after they beat Manchester Giants and Glasgow Rocks last weekend to improve to a 13-0 BBL Championship mark.
However, Eagles travel to Leeds Force on Friday ahead of their Sunday trip to Cheshire.
Waiting for them will be a Phoenix side keen to send a message, after their four-game winning run came to an end with back-to-back defeats against Leicester Riders and Plymouth Raiders last weekend.
Last time they met:
Esh Group Eagles Newcastle 118 Cheshire Phoenix 80 (BBL Championship, Sports Central, 16 October 2015)
Phoenix: WWWWLL
Eagles: WWWWWW
Three Points:
  • Eagles have reached each of the previous four BBL Cup Finals, winning two of them
  • Phoenix’s last trip to the BBL Cup Final was in 2010
  • Point guard Jorge Ebanks this week left Cheshire Phoenix
What they say:
Eagles guard Drew Lasker: “It’s the same approach mentally (for a Cup Semi-Final) in that you just want to win the game. But tactically it is a little bit different because you have got to make sure, because it is two legs, that you value every single every single possession.
“You have got to close out quarters and you have got to finish the game, whereas normally, if a team is up 10 or 15 points they will take their foot off the gas and be happy with the win, but in these Cup ties you’ve got to keep playing every possession, because those two or three points could be the difference.
“[Experience] gives us a huge advantage because everybody on our team has been through it and as much you try to explain to a rookie how it is, you don’t really understand it until you go through it.
“They have a couple of guys on their team that have never been through it and that should play into our hands.”
Phoenix guard Sedale Hanson-Young: “When we win games it’s often because the defence we have played has led to good offence. I’d also say that we as a team are often too stagnant and [need to] get the ball moving, which will lead to Jordan (Williams), Akeem (Ellis) and Kinu (Rochford) getting better looks, which will often drop as they are really good scorers.”
“Everybody knows what Newcastle are and that’s winners. There is no denying that. They are still unbeaten in the season and are playing really well at the moment, but our main goal is to focus on ourselves and make sure we give the best performances possible in both legs and if we do that I really do believe we have a great chance of winning.
“As for the Semi-Final it’s great being a part of it as it’s something every team wants to win and it’s even more special for me as the final is held in Birmingham at the Barclaycard Arena, which I have always wanted to play at.”