Newcastle Eagles will aim to preserve their lead at the top of the BBL Championship table when they host Prestige Homes MK Lions at Sport Central on Friday night.
The Eagles have won their opening three regular season games, and combined with their progress to the BBL Trophy semi-final, it was enough to win play-caller Fabulous Flournoy the Molten Coach of the Month award.
Meanwhile, Lions have had a mixed start to the campaign having lost their opening Championship game at Glasgow Rocks and gone out of the BBL Cup at Jelson Homes DMU Leicester Riders, but a comfortable win at London Leopards last week saw them join Eagles in the draw for the BBL Trophy semi-finals.
The Eagles have won eight of the nine meetings between the teams over the last three years, but the last time they played saw Lions sent Newcastle’s title hopes with an 83-81 victory at the MK Basketball Centre.
Despite that mixed start to the season for the Lions, Flournoy isn’t taking the visit of MK lightly: “We haven’t seen Lions this year, their results have been up and down but we know how explosive their backcourt is from last year. Stefan Gill and Demarius Bolds are not guys you can take lightly. I don’t know why they have lost the games so comprehensively but am sure that will be fuel for them coming up here to play against us.”
The Eagles go into the game on the back of a second straight win against one of the sides tipped to challenge them from the title, One Health Sharks Sheffield, and Flournoy was delighted with the way his team performed in the second half: “Sharks was, as we expected, a lot tougher the second time around. Our first half was probably as poor as we have played all season and only our interior defence kept us in the game. In the second half we managed to pick up the tempo and get a lead but even then we could not maintain it all the way to the end and we allowed the Sharks, who to their credit never stopped competing to come right back into it.
“For us Andy Thomson had a really solid game and when we needed a lift at half-time Joe Chapman came out and provided it. Also I was delighted that Ross Wilson had the confidence to step up and knock down a big shot with his first touch of the ball with only a minute to go. He has been struggling with knee tendonitis but when he gets healthy and is able to practice properly we really hope to see him on court more.
“Jimmy Langhurst was exceptional and nearly willed Sharks to victory. Mike Tuck also had his normal consistent game.”
The win gives Eagles the tiebreaker if the two sides finish level, but Flournoy isn’t carried away: “The head-to-head is only important if the two teams finish on the same wins and losses. There is still 90 percent of the season to go so I would need to have a crystal ball to say whether it will matter or not.”
Eagles still have the option of adding additional non-EU player, but Flournoy is happy with his current squad: “At the moment we are who we are. We are not actively looking to make additions but we do expect to have Charles [Smith] back soon which will of course be like adding another player.”
Lions’ coach Mike New is aware of the challenge facing his team in the north east: “I know that Newcastle have some really solid veterans in coach Fab, Charles Smith and Andrew Bridge, along with an outstanding shooter in Joe Chapman. They’ve added the big English kid, Andrew Thomson, who I had my eye on in the summer. They’re a bit banged up without Charles at the moment, but they’re finding a way to win. That’s important, it doesn’t matter if you win well or ugly, it’s the way you win that counts.
“Paul Gause has been playing well for them, and Thompson has been outstanding. Along with Charles, they’re probably their key players.”