Newcastle Eagles 75 (19,42,58) (Smith 24, Jackson 24, Defoe 9)
Mersey Tigers 80 (22,42,54) (Reinking 22, Toney 20, Thomson 18)
Mersey Tigers are the BBL Championship winners after beating arch-rivals Newcastle Eagles 75-80 in the north-east to clinch the title.
Knowing a defeat would open the door for the Eagles, Mersey held them off over the last three minutes to win their first league title and add more silverware to the BBL Trophy, which they won earlier this year.
Former Eagle Tafari Toney (pictured) scored the basket that put Tigers up for good at 70-71. Nate Reinking added a three and then assisted on another Toney bucket.
Free throws by Toney, Reinking and Sullivan sealed the win and set off jubilant scenes at Sport Central.
Tigers had edged the first quarter 19-22 after a 10-17 lead had been tied at 19-19. It was an early sign of Newcastle’s resilience – a theme that was set to continue.
Five points from Andrew Thomson midway through the second period saw Mersey lead by 10 (30-40). But it began an Eagles fightback. Reggie Jackson drained a three, Charles Smith followed with another and the score was tied at 40-40.
Two free throws from Smith made the match level (42-42) at half time but Eagles held the upper hand in the third quarter.
A Drew Lasker free throw made it 58-49 and it seemed as though the title was swinging back in Newcastle’s favour. Reinking showed all his class to make a three and James Jones scored a lay-up at the buzzer to make it 58-54.
Eagles went out to 60-54 on a Fab Flournoy two before Tigers began to show their championship mettle.
The lead changed hands throughout the middle part of the final stanza until Toney gave Mersey it for good at 70-71. Reinking’s three was too early to be a dagger but it gave Tigers breathing room.
Newcastle tried everything to force their way back into the match but three point attempts by Bridge, Lasker and two from Smith all missed to allow Tigers to celebrate a famous victory.