Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles bid for back-to-back wins against overseas opposition tonight boosted by the return of two frontline stars.
A run of seven games in 17 days — starting with this week’s tough trip to Keila Coolbet — is set to stretch head coach Marc Steutel’s roster to the limit.
But both Scott Spencer and Josh Ward-Hibbert boarded the flight for Estonia on Monday keen to get their seasons back on track.
And it seems regular starter Devin Whitfield isn’t too far behind as Newcastle finally emerge from the club’s New Year injury nightmare.
“We’re expecting Josh and Scott to play a part in Wednesday’s game which is good news,” confirmed Steutel.
“Devin is extremely close and Will [Neighbour] is going to be back in the very near future.
“It’s common knowledge that illness has been going through the team — and it’s impacted a few players again this week — but hopefully everyone will be recovered by Wednesday.”
If Steutel is able to add Spencer, Ward-Hibbert and Larry Austin Jr to the line-up that stunned Liege then the Eagles will start tonight’s clash as narrow favourites.
A thrilling debut campaign in the European North Basketball League (ENBL) gathered pace following last Tuesday’s homecourt victory against the big-spending Belgians.
And Newcastle stand on the brink of claiming a quarter-final berth after moving to 3-2 in Group B with two games to play.
“We’re still very much in the mix for the ENBL and so we’re still reassessing our goals and looking at what we’ve achieved so far,” added Steutel.
“From the outset we wanted to test ourselves on the European stage and learn about our organisation and our team — what it means to compete at that level.
“We’ve done that part but the team’s still competing and we want to play the post season in the ENBL. We’ve made a good start but we need to maintain our form on Wednesday.”
ENBL surprise package Newcastle sit one place above a Keila side that needs victory tonight to keep its own fading playoff hopes alive.
The Estonians slipped to a 93-88 defeat to mid table rivals Pärnu last Friday to remain three places off the top eight in the Latvian Estonian League.
But Steutel is in no mood to take Peep Pahv’s men lightly on their own patch.
“Keila are another good European basketball side who demand respect,” he added.
“We’ve had the chance to do some positive advance scouting work and it’s important that we know how effective they can be as a team.
“I know they space the floor well defensively and they’ve shown with wins domestically and in the ENBL that when they shoot the ball well they’re a tough team to guard.
“They’ve got some size on the perimeter and they’ve recruited a shooting stretch forward who’s been playing really well.
“I’d expect another close basketball game. Liege had a tough time at Keila so we know we’re in for another difficult game at a challenging venue.
“But we’re excited. We think we can cause them some problems if we can build on the Liege display.”
What started out as a trip into the unknown for Steutel’s men has suddenly become a competition close to the hearts of an ambitious roster hungry for success.
And the men in black sense an opportunity to go deeper into the ENBL at the same time as maintaining their top four British Basketball League Championship challenge.
“The goal was to try and get into the ENBL playoffs, go from there and see what happened,” added Steutel.
“The level of the teams competing in this competition is high — the likes of Voluntari, Liege, Bakken Bears and Lithuania’s Joventus — with some strong sides benefitting from big budgets.
“We want to make the playoffs and it’s still in our hands. If we can do that then it would be very positive for everyone involved with Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles.”
Tonight’s Group B fixture is free to watch live on our website, powered by Matchday Media.