BBL Championship
Esh Group Eagles Newcastle 82 (27,41,61) (Defoe 19, Cooke 19, Martin 13)
One Health Sharks Sheffield 78 (18,41,57) (Holmes 24, Babalola 22, Tuck 14)

Esh Group Eagles Newcastle have taken a significant step towards a fifth BBL Championship title in seven years after overcoming third-placed rivals One Health Sharks Sheffield by 82-78 at Sport Central, to take the crucial head-to-head between the teams. The Eagles have won nine in a row – with their last defeat being to Sheffield in February – and have won 13 straight at home, dating back to October.

Malik Cooke (pictured) had a big double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds, with Darius Defoe matching his points tally. BJ Holmes, for the Sharks, led all scorers in vain with 24 points including 6/9 three-pointers to keep his team in the game.

Defoe had 11 points in a first quarter that was broken open when Paul Gause and Scott Martin scored consecutive three-pointers in 20 seconds. Another Gause triple contributed to an 11-3 spell, and when Flournoy added another to open the second stanza the Eagles were up 30-18.

But they wouldn’t have it all their own way in the first half, as they were then held scoreless for two and a half minutes, while Demetrius Jemison got the Sharks going with six points in a row, sparking a comeback in the run up to half time. BJ Holmes made a three-pointer with 2.32 to play that ignited an amazing 12-2 finish as Tuck scored consecutively and Holmes capped the run with a buzzer-beating three-pointer to tie the teams at 41.

And that story was repeated in the second half, as the Eagles came out on fire, with a massive 13-2 push as Martin scored five and the Sharks were allowed just one basket in four and a half minutes. The visitors edged their way back into the game, and narrowed it to one shot at 61-59 through Babalola at the outset of the decisive fourth quarter.

Charles Smith temporarily settled the Eagles with a three-pointer, but scores from Nick Lewis and Holmes saw the Sharks take their first lead of the game at 72-73. But it would be the only time they led as Cooke was fouled in the act of shooting from long-range and made all three free-throws, before Defoe scored a put-back for 77-73 heading into the final minute. Holmes’s triple gave the Sharks hope at 80-78 with 15 seconds to play, but Cooke was there to win the game from the free-throw line.

Eagles can now secure the title next weekend with wins over Birmingham and Surrey.