Newcastle Eagles captain Andrew Bridge has tipped big man Lynard Stewart, who was recently named Molten Player of the Season, to make an impact for his team as look to complete a fourth straight BBL play-off final victory this weekend.
Eagles face Marshall MK Lions in the semi-final at the NIA on Saturday afternoon, with the final the following day, and Bridge acknowledged that the difference that Stewart has made to the Eagles.
“This season has been different for us, as it’s the first time we’ve had a genuine post-player, and it’s taken some adjustment. I played with Lynard at Sheffield, but he’s so much better now. We’re using him a lot better now. It’s never good to have guys injured, but it’s made us play to Lynard’s strengths. He was just coming through when Charles [Smith] got injured, but he’s really been able to express himself since we lost Charles in the Trophy final.”
Certainly it would be no surprise if Stewart proved to be the key man for Eagles this weekend, as the 32- year-old American centre was MVP when Sheffield Sharks won the competition in 2003/4 – having also collected the honour as Sharks won the BBL Cup earlier in that campaign.
Stewart has led the Eagles in scoring and rebounding this season, averaging 15.76 points and 8.61 rebounds per game, as well as leading the BBL in field goal percentage – scoring 67.9 percent of his shots.
Having won their previous four games in overtime, Eagles despatched Worcester Wolves 105-96 in the play-off quarter-finals, and Bridge was pleased with the way the Newcastle team closed the game out,
“We struggled a bit in the first half, and let them score 60 percent of their shots, but we built a ten point lead at the end of the third period. Obviously we’d want to build on a lead, but sometimes you just have to manage it, and I think we did that very well.”
Bridge was also pleased to see Charles Smith and Jeremy Hyatt return from injury to play in Eagles’ last two games and thinks they will be a big bonus as his team look for an historic fourth straight play-off success,
“Charles was able to come back against Sheffield last week and score 17 points, and having him and Jeremy back will be great for the team. But Lynard is now the key for the team.
“Sometimes it’ll be other guys who get the points, for instance it was me and Steve [Leven] at Milton Keynes, but we now play to his strengths. It’s great to have Jeremy and Charles back, but I imagine they’ll be coming off the bench. A few years ago they would have expected to go straight back into the starting line- up, but they understand the situation, and are comfortable with it. Having two MVP-quality players coming off the bench is a great boost for the team. It gives Fab extra options, and he can now sit people down for three or four minutes if they are having a tough time.”