Newcastle Eagles 86 (24,49,63) (Bridge 17, Defoe 16, Jackson 14)
Guildford Heat 81 (23,45,61) (Metcalfe 22, Howell 20, Sandell 14)

The top two sides in the BBL in recent seasons went head-to-head on the BBL Championship’s opening night as the Newcastle Eagles overcame the Guildford Heat 86-81 at the MetroRadio Arena, the sixth consecutive game between the sides to be settled by just a single-figure winning margin.

British stars led the way as Andrew Bridge (17) and Darius Defoe (16) led the hosts’ scoring, whilst new signing Alan Metcalfe had 22 points and 8 rebounds for the Heat.

The Eagles, buoyed by the recent return of GB captain Andrew Sullivan, who started from the bench, quickly opened up a resounding 17-2 lead in the first quarter in front of around 3,000 noisy home fans. The Heat, reigning BBL Playoff and Trophy champions, soon picked themselves up and Keonta Howell capped a 9-2 burst with a three-pointer, before adding another after Dan Sandell had hit a triple of his own, and the Heat were just one down at 22-21 before the first quarter ended with the Eagles up 24-23.

The Heat tied the game at 25 on another Howell score early in the second stanza, only for the Eagles to respond with a rapid 8-0 tear. After a dunk by Darius Defoe, the Eagles had the edge at 49-45 going into the locker rooms at the half-way point.

The visitors completed their comeback from the early deficit soon in the third period as they took the lead at 51-52 after a Brad Jones score. The teams could barely be separated as they continued to exchange the lead, before Metcalfe and Sandell scored back-to-back baskets to see the Heat take a 4 point edge at 57-61. However, Newcastle’s new point guard, Reggie Jackson, netted consecutive triples to regain the lead for the Eagles at 63-61 going into the decisive quarter.

Tafari Toney made two early baskets in the fourth as the Eagles opened with 10 unanswered points, capped by a Sullivan dunk, to extend the lead to 71-61. Metcalfe made a pair of three-pointers for the Heat, before Jones and Howell added baskets to cut the deficit to 76-73 with 3:39 to play. The game remained tight entering the late stages and when Howell hit another three-pointer with less than a minute to go, it was a one-possession game at 80-77. Chad McKnight made consecutive baskets, after Stewart had scored for the Eagles, to make the score 82-81 inside the last 20 seconds, but BBL veterans Trey Moore and Andrew Bridge saw the game out from the line.

In the aftermath of the game, Eagles’ Assistant Coach Billy Spragg said,

“It was a scrappy game for both teams, but in the end we won with our defence.

“All of our new guys contributed in different ways, but we were a bit disjointed with a number of new players on the court. All-in-all we are happy with the ‘W’, but not happy with the performance.”