The Newcastle Eagles came through a frantic encounter with the Guildford Heat to take a 104-97 advantage in their BBL Championship Playoff quarter-final first leg. The Eagles, who have won the Playoffs in four of the last six seasons, have not lost to the Heat in four games this season.

Newcastle were led by Reggie Jackson’s huge double-double of 28 points and14 assists, and Charles Smith’s 24 points, including six three-pointers. Ralph Hegamin and Julius Joseph led the Heat, with 20 points each.

Neither team could establish themselves in a game that saw 22 lead changes and the teams tied on 12 occasions. The Eagles led 4-0 after holding their visitors scoreless for the first three and a half minutes, before the Heat tied the game at 4-4 and forced the Eagles into a timeout – the teams sharing just eight points in the opening five minutes in a nervous start to the post-season. They began scoring after that time out and traded baskets until Hegamin’s triple gave the Heat an 8-14 lead, only for Smith to respond with a triple of his own and Darius Defoe’s ‘and one’ play tied the game again. The Eagles pulled through to lead 24-21 after the opening ten minutes.

But the Heat took the lead with an 8-0 burst to start the second period as Joseph moved to 10 points. Jackson got the Eagles going with consecutive baskets before they regained the lead through Defoe, who checked out soon after with his third foul. Seven lead changes ensued, before the Eagles edged into a 51-50 half time lead on a 6-0 finish that included four for Kadiri Richard.

The game continued in the same vein after the break, with five lead changes before a 6-0 run, including four for Hegamin, put the Heat up 55-60. The Eagles had it back to a one-point game at 64-65 on Smith’s sixth triple, and they took the lead back at the end of the quarter, as in the previous period, with a 6-0 finish in the last minute including a Drew Lasker score with 9 seconds on the clock.

But the game was epitomised by a rollercoaster of a fourth quarter. Richard and Lasker opened the period with scores to open the lead up to 80-73. But a Carlos Medlock three-pointer amid a 7-0 response saw the teams tied up once more, for the twelfth time, at 82 with seven minutes to play. McLemore’s triple and a Martin two gave the Heat the lead back, in what had become a 14-2 push. But the pendulum swung decisively the other way once more as the Eagles came back 7-0, regaining the lead on Jackson’s triple at 93-91 with 2.21 to play, and it was they who finished strongly to take a 104-97 lead into the second leg on Saturday night.

BBL Championship Playoff Quarter-Final, First Leg
Newcastle Eagles 104 (24,51,76) (Jackson 28, Smith 24, Defoe 19)
Guildford Heat 97 (21,50,73) (Hegamin 20, Joseph 20, Medlock 17)