Newcastle Eagles have Cheshire Phoenix to thank for keeping their season alive following a chastening defeat at BBL champions London Lions.
Marc Steutel’s men remain four points adrift of eighth-placed Plymouth City Patriots after crashing to a heavy loss at the Copper Box Arena.
But Cheshire’s comfortable win at the Patriots keeps the race for the playoffs wide open heading into the final week of the regular season.
And remarkably Newcastle could still sneak into the top eight by taking maximum points from back-to-back road trips.
The Eagles travel to Caledonia Gladiators on Thursday before making the long trip to Plymouth on Sunday.
But even if Steutel’s men edge past their Scottish rivals — and the Patriots slip up against London the following night — Newcastle would need to beat Paul James’ side by 10 points to take eighth spot.
And that’s a big ask for a team with just nine league wins all season and a side facing fresh concerns over the fitness of star man and leading scorer Javion Hamlet.
That the men in black have managed to extend a wretched campaign into the final week is some kind of miracle given a season-long lack of consistency.
But the visitors could have run title winners London a lot closer given any kind of luck from beyond the arc.
The Eagles shot a paltry four from 22 from three-point range despite out-rebounding Ryan Schmidt’s star-studded side 43-33.
By contrast, a game defined by the tale of the triples saw the free-scoring hosts land 14 of their 32 shots from downtown.
That was enough to put clear daylight between two teams operating at opposite ends of the BBL Championship table.
And if Newcastle missed Hamlet — last seen hobbling off the Vertu Motors Arena court following Friday’s physical showdown against the Gladiators — then London were without NBA star Sam Dekker.
Not that the BBL’s richest franchise is short on top talent with Aaron Best, Mo Soluade and Josh Sharma picking up the slack in Dekker’s absence.
And ultimately a deeper roster and deadlier shooting destroyed the Eagles’ hopes of an unlikely underdog win.
An entertaining first quarter saw offences on top before the Lions finally opened up a 29-22 lead.
Ben Mockford, fresh from a key 15-point contribution on Friday, forced his way into the starting five in the sidelined Hamlet’s absence.
And alongside fellow GB international Kyle Johnson, Newcastle’s experienced guard helped the visitors to settle against a typically stifling London press.
A buzzer-beating Best three extended the hosts’ lead to 15 points at the half but the Eagles continued to dominate the boards despite early foul trouble for the agitated Hasahn French.
Justin Gordon, fresh from a BBL career high 32 points against Caledonia, kept the Lions keen with a series of tough plays under the basket.
But London’s superior strength in depth was always going to make the difference down the stretch.
Sure enough, this season’s EuroCup surprise package played with poise and professionalism to see off a late Newcastle surge.
And although Gordon hit back-to-back fourth quarter triples — to soar past 50 points for the weekend — it was too little too late for the league’s second bottom club.
But the dream of a winner-takes-all play-in clash at Plymouth is still alive as Steutel approaches the biggest week of his coaching career.