Newcastle Eagles player-coach Fabulous Flournoy has praise for his players ahead of their key clash against Mersey Tigers on Wednesday:

“We travelled 2,500 miles in a seven day period, playing four tough road games against extremely competitive teams with the added disadvantage of having lost Trey [Moore] and then having to integrate Drew [Lasker] on the back of one days practice.

“On Saturday we were six down in overtime and on Sunday we were 19 down in the second quarter and looked dead on our feet. To win both of those games is one of our greatest achievements as a club, whether or not it eventually leads to us winning the league. I know now that my players have the hearts of champions and that is all I can ask for.”

That punishing schedule saw win at Guildford Heat before going down 83-81 at Prestige Homes MK Lions. They then won 79-78 at both Worcester Wolves and UCP Marjon Plymouth Raiders.

It’s a key game for both Eagles and Tigers as the BBL Championship reaches its conclusion. The sides were level with 23-7 records at the top of the table heading into Tigers’ game against One Health Sharks on Tuesday evening, but Tigers have already sealed the head-to-head decider between the sides if they finish with the same record at the end of the season.

Flournoy expects a tough game when his team face Mersey: “Our last three games against Tigers have all been in doubt until the final shot. We know that they are a formidable, well coached team who has battled through a lot of adversity to be in the race. However we too have had more than our fair share of adversity and I am delighted and a little amazed at the resilience of our players and coaching staff.
“The game as ever will come down to who makes the most plays on the night and even possibly who gets the key calls at the right time. An experienced refereeing crew who is willing to look past players reputations and simply call the game as it happens will be vital.”

Tigers coach Tony Garbelotto knows what to expect on Wednesday evening “I don’t think there is anything we don’t know about each others teams. The addition of Drew Lasker will speed up their team even more now but they will lose in other areas. What I do know is that since losing to us two weeks ago they have shown the heart of a champion, winning close game after close game. The two wins at the weekend were special wins and if they win the league you have to look no further than those games

“To me the key to this team is now Reggie Jackson. He has incredible energy at the moment, a real desire and a point to prove. That’s a tough combination and we will have to be ready on every level to handle him.

“As I have said in the past, we are the only team other than Sheffield that can stand up to Newcastle mentally. We really don’t have to change the way we play against them as we have the system and style of play that wins against them. Our problem will be how tired will our players be after the Sheffield game?”