Newcastle Eagles 96 (Smith 27, Defoe 24, Ikhinmwin 21)
Durham Wildcats 92 (Page 26, Keister 21, Guinane 20)

The Newcastle Eagles survived a late comeback to win the North East derby against the Durham Wildcats by 96-92 at Sports Central. Six players scored more than 20 points as Charles Smith led the way with 27 and 10 rebounds, supported by Darius Defoe’s 24 points and 11 boards; Keith Page scored 26 in vain for the Wildcats.

The Eagles looked comfortable in the first half as, early on, they rattled off 7 in a row sparked by Joe Chapman’s three-pointer to take a 12-6 lead. That reached 18-10 until they were pegged back by Page’s ‘and-one’ play to make the score 20-17. But that was Durham’s last score for two and a half minutes as the Eagles asserted themselves at the end of the first period, scoring 9 of the last 11 points, including an ‘and-one’ from Defoe, to lead 29-19.

And the teams exchanged bursts in a frantic second stanza as, firstly, the Eagles extended their lead with an 11-2 run, including 7 for Chapman, to make the score 42-27 midway through, only for Page to respond with 8 points in a 9-0 reply to keep the Wildcats in touch at 42-37. In a fascinating spell in the game, the pendulum swung once more as the Eagles scored 12 in a row sparked by Smith’s three-pointer and including 5 for Anthony Martin, with only Brad Guinane’s late three-pointer pegging them back to 54-40 at the half.

But the second half was much tighter and the Wildcats showed that they were in the game immediately as they cut the deficit to 64-56 with 6 straight points. The Eagles maintained their edge, but were severely threatened when Guinane and Page hit consecutive three-pointers to get the Wildcats within striking distance at 70-66. But the Eagles didn’t allow their visitors a basket in the final two minutes as Smith and Defoe, with five points, settled the Eagles; the latter scored a buzzer-beating three-pointer – only his third all season – to send the Eagles back into a double-digit advantage at 77-66.

But, despite an early 8-0 tear from the Eagles, the Wildcats dominated the fourth quarter. The score was 93-75 heading in to the last five minutes when the Wildcats came storming all the way back to get to within one possession: their run was 17-1 over a four and a half minute period with Page adding another 6 as Ralph Bucci’s ‘and-one’ play made the score 94-92 with 10 seconds to play. But Joe Chapman kept his team’s Championship hopes alive as he made 2/2 at the free-throw line to settle the game.