Debutant Bryan Defares starred as the Eagles dismantled the travelling Leicester Riders by closing out a 33-point victory last night that cements their spot at the top of the league, writes DAN WARBURTON.

Any fears the Eagles’ partisans may secretly have harbored of Fabulous Flournoy resting his stars ahead of Sunday’s colossal BBL Cup final clash with Milton Keynes were put to bed as his on-court heroes mauled the Riders.

The Eagles play-caller could have been forgiven for allowing his squad some breathing space just 48 hours prior to the Tynesiders’ biggest game of their already emphatic season. But the New Yorker ensured the Eagles bounced back from last week’s shock defeat to Worcester Wolves with a glittering display.

However, it was the visiting team that exploded from the blocks in the opening quarter as they rocked the Tynesiders with a shock lead and forced Flournoy’s men into action. Points from Barry Lamble and Terrance Woodyard put daylight between Martin Ford’s men and the Eagles, before Charles Smith and Lynard Stewart combined to restore parity – and give Newcastle the lead.

But a drab first quarter ended with the teams on an even keel, and the Tynesiders will have rued a string of missed opportunities under the basket and inside the paint.The highlight of a dull first period was the introduction of Flournoy’s latest signing Bryan Defares.

Any plans he may have had to save the services of his new star until later in the contest were blown apart by an abject performance from the home-side. A string of dreadful misses from Olu Babalola – hampered by a heavily strapped elbow – in the opening minutes of the game put the pressure on the home-side.

But it was Defares who spearheaded the Eagles assault as they clambered back into the game. The 6ft 4in guard clinched 10 second quarter points as Flournoy’s men put in a 31-9 tear, destroying the Riders’ resistance and putting the Tynesiders in the driving seat. The Eagles began the second quarter by blazing a 7-0 tear before the Riders could respond.

The visitors’ points haul came exclusively from Steve Vear and Chad McKnight as they teamed up to pick up a combined second-quarter tally of just nine points. However even that threat was erased as Ford’s roster crumbled under the bright lights of the Metro Radio Arena in the third period.

Smith clinched 11 points from under the nose of a sleeping Riders defence as the Eagles extended their lead. And despite taking their foot off the gas the Eagles maintained their lead with a 24-15 run. The final quarter continued in much the same vain with the Eagles outclassing their rivals over the entire court.

Charles Smith was unable to add to his game-high tally of 20 points as he watched from the bench. But Darius Defoe entered the game and continued the Eagles’ momentum with massive three-point shots and tricky slam-dunks.

Young-guns Will Spragg and Aarron Nielsen were given court time as Flournoy eased his way to the Eagles’ 16th win of the championship season. And Babalola returned from the bench to make amends for his nightmare start and ended the night with 15.

Flournoy did not allow Jeremy Hyatt to get into the action as he continues his recovery from the knee injury that almost ended his career, but he may make an appearance in Sunday’s clash.

EAGLES: Smith 20, Babalola 15, Defares 13.
RIDERS: McKnight 20, Woodyard 7, Lamble 7