ESH Group Eagles Newcastle 113
Team USA Select 88

Just over 48 hours after their win at Leeds, the Eagles were back on court for what will almost certainly be their last openly competitive pre-season game before the BBL Championship starts on Friday 27th September.

The opposition in front of them at Benfield Centre of Sporting Excellence were the annual touring side Team USA Select led as usual by effervescent Director and Coach Sean Kilmartin. Kilmartin puts a side together of US ballers looking to secure jobs in Europe so a competitive encounter is always envisaged.

And with Head Coach Fab Flournoy joining Charles Smith on the injury list, the Eagles were down to a seven-man rotation for the game. The good news though is neither Flournoy or Smith’s injuries seem serious enough to keep them out of the roster for the BBL Championship opening night.

However, with the two veterans on the sidelines there was a bigger emphasis on Darius Defoe’s leadership and organisational skills to lead the team as they continue to find their feet as a unit and grow as a side. Defoe did not disappoint with a strong performance throughout and in particular marshalling the Eagles ‘D’.

Team USA always give a 110% in their search to impress any possible watching scouts and to take advantage of any possible opportunities and this was no exception. They played hard, fast and committed throughout the full forty minutes but ultimately came up short against a more powerful Eagles unit.

The visitors actually took the lead in the game with a Humphrey triple and when he tripled again his side led 8 – 5, Paul Gause and Defoe with deuces for the home side and Malik Cooke also off the mark with 1 from two from the line.

A Scott Martin ‘and1’ levelled things up and then a triple from Drew Lasker put the Eagles in front at 13 – 12 for the first time midway through the first and from their they were never headed again. A 12 – 2 burst from Newcastle with Cooke contributing eight saw them break the game open and by the end of the quarter they led 32 – 23 with the explosive Cooke already on 12 personal.

The seven-men rotation had all seen good minutes and certainly Defoe and Martin on the inside were looking strong with Cooke and Gause being the other main scoring threat from Newcastle. Gause’s hand speed causing real problems for The Select guards as he came up with many a steal and quick transition offence.

Team USA were not completely out of the equation and kept themselves in the game with some determined and at times good play but it was The Eagles who extended their lead in the second to go in to the locker room 54 – 39 ahead.

The early part of the third period saw the touring side match their hosts and cut the gap slightly to 63 – 51. But the unstoppable Cooke stepped up big style and led a scoring rout that saw the Eagles finish the quarter with an 18 – 3 run to effectively seal the game at 81 – 54 with ten minutes left to ply.

Given that Flournoy threw in a ‘new’ defence for his charges to master and the team is still coming together and to terms with each other this was a very impressive, slick and powerful effort from Newcastle. Cooke looked really sharp and added 11 more points.

Martin, Gause and Defoe supported superbly and with Lasker, Thomson and Matthew all playing their roles and adding to the performance, Flournoy looked on with some satisfaction as his side ticked a lot of the early season boxes.

Somewhat understandably they tired in the final ten minutes especially at the defensive end and actually lost the final ten minutes 34 – 32.

Once again some impressive offensive play was demonstrated but at the other end the fatigue and a deeper USA bench combined to allow the visitors to take small consolation from that final period. However, the final score line definitely was a deserving one for the new-look Eagles.

All seven players got on the score sheet and new US imports Cooke and Martin led the way which showing really positive and promising signs for their new Club. Defoe looks like he’s ready to lead and Gause once again showed his explosive style.

With Lasker and Thomson looking really solid in support and Matthew gaining in experience and ability all the time, Coach Flournoy was a happy man at the final buzzer knowing he still has himself and last season’s Eagles Player of the Year and top scorer Charles Smith still in the wings.

Add in his own defensive organisation and capabilities and it looks like an Eagles roster that is already in the groove and ready to welcome Durham Wildcats to Sport Central on Friday 27th September for the opening night in The BBL Championship.

EAGLES – Malik Cooke 32, Scott Martin 23, Darius Defoe 21, Paul Gause 19, Drew Lasker 9, Stu Thomson 7 and Eddie Matthew 2