Durham Wildcats 95 (21,47,67) (Evans 20, Huffor 17, Ginty 13)
Esh Group Eagles Newcastle 99 (27,49,72) (Defoe 22, Gause 19, Cooke 17)

Table-topping Esh Group Eagles Newcastle had to survive a late scare in the North East derby to overcome Durham Wildcats 95-99 on Sunday. Darius Defoe (pictured) led the Eagles with 22 points and 8 rebounds, and scored crucial baskets down the stretch to ensure that the Eagles maintained their title charge with an eighth win in a row.

The Wildcats have now lost three on the bounce and see their Playoff spot under threat, but they could never quite be shaken off in this game. The hosts led early on after Odiba Attah opened proceedings with a three-pointer, before Charles Smith scored seven points to see the Eagles up 6-9 and then added two more which, followed by Malik Cooke’s triple, helped them to a 13-20 lead. Durham narrowed the gap, but trailed 21-27 after ten minutes with Paul Gause scoring an ‘and-one’ at the end of the first period.

But the hosts didn’t let the Eagles get away and set the tone for the rest of the game as they started the second much the stronger, tying at 33 as RJ Evans scored consecutive baskets. Wildcats temporarily took the lead when Mike Allison made it 41-40, but Gause responded for the Eagles before the teams ran up to half time level pegging until Darius Defoe scored the last basket before the break to see the Eagles up 47-49.

Fab Flournoy came to the fore for Newcastle in the third quarter, scoring six points as his first three-pointer of the season made the score 54-62. They still led by eight heading into the last seven minutes of the game, until Devin Ginty’s three-pointer provided a spark for the hosts and scores from Evans and Ralph Bucci made it a one possession game at 76-79.

It was a one point game when Ginty hit another three-pointer, 81-82 with three and a half minutes left. But then the Eagles showed the character that has them firmly in a BBL Championship title race, as Cooke and Defoe combined at the crucial moment: the former hit a three-pointer and the pair shared all of the points in a 10-2 run that put the Eagles back up 83-92 with a minute and a half to play. The game wasn’t over as, amazingly, Bucci and Danny Huffor hit consecutive three-pointers to make the score 89-92 inside the final minute, but Defoe was there again with a crucial dunk and, after another Huffor trey, Smith sealed it with 2/2 free-throws.

Eagles move on to face Sheffield Sharks this coming Friday in the final regular season home game of the year. A win will see Eagles all but over the line as we chase our 6th Championship title in 10 years.