The Mersey Tigers scored a victory that could prove decisive by the end of the season as they beat the Newcastle Eagles 88-84 on Tuesday night. It gives the Tigers the head-to-head between the two leading contenders for the BBL Championship title, and was their fifth straight league win while ending Newcastle’s run of four straight wins in the process.
Nate Reinking led the Tigers with 19 points, while former Eagle Tafari Toney added 15; Andrew Thomson scored 14 for the Tigers, including the two crucial free-throws with 6 seconds left. Reggie Jackson and Trey Moore led the resistance with 16 each.
The Eagles opened the better and led narrowly through the first four minutes, until James Jones put the hosts up 16-12. After regaining the lead, the visiting Eagles had it snatched from them on the first quarter buzzer as Reinking connected on a last-gasp triple.
The visiting Eagles started the second stanza with a 7-2 burst to regain the lead at 25-28 and force the hosts into a time out, but that was the last lead that Newcastle would see. Out of that time out, characteristically for this game, the Tigers responded with consecutive baskets and took the lead back at 29-28 on David Aliu’s score, and pushed on to lead 43-36 at the half. The first twenty minutes saw a shootout in the backcourt, with Reinking (Tigers) and Jackson (Eagles) on 11 points each.
The Tigers came surging out of the locker room as James Jones’s three-pointer sparked an immediate 8-0 burst in the third quarter to push the lead out to 51-36, in what became a 14-2 run over the half time break. The Eagles recovered with a 7-2 response as they attempted to get back to within ten, but they couldn’t do so and trailed 63-48 going into the decisive fourth quarter.
The hosts maintained their advantage through the first five minutes, as Aliu passed to Sullivan for a dunk and a 73-59 lead. But the Eagles came out of a timeout looking to make a game of it down the stretch and they achieved that by pushing the Tigers all the way down the stretch. The gap was narrowed to 78-70 with an 11-5 run, three minutes left on the clock, but it looked all-but-over as Reinking’s three-pointer restored a double-digit lead for the Tigers at 81-70. The Eagles weren’t done, given what was on the line, and 8 unanswered points saw them get it back down to 85-81 with 40 seconds to play, and it was a one possession game at 86-83 with 12 seconds remaining after two free-throws from Moore. But the Tigers had enough to see the game out as Andrew Thomson crucially made 2/2 free-throws with 6 seconds to play, putting the game beyond the Eagles.
Mersey Tigers 88 (23,43,63) (Reinking 19, Toney 15, Thomson 14)
Newcastle Eagles 84 (21,36,48) (Jackson 16, Moore 16, Smith 15)