Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles latest European adventure took them to the outskirts of northern Bucharest in Romania to take on the Group B Leaders CSO Vountari.
In the end despite a valiant effort from Marc Steutel’s short handed roster it was the home side that consolidated their lead at the top of the standings moving to a 4 – 1 record whilst The Eagles dropped to 2 – 2.
It means the visit of Zielona Gora of Poland to the Vertu Motors Arena three days after Christmas now takes on greater significance if Newcastle are to qualify for the knock-out stages of their rookie European campaign.
With Scott Spencer and Will Neighbour both out until January, Steutel had no option but to out his faith in his remaining players. They did him proud although ultimately they just ran out of steam in the closing stages as the home side overturned a nine-point deficit.
Devin Whitfield’s back to back triples had given Newcastle a scent of a victory as they led 66 points to 57 with eight minutes remaining. Up to that point both teams defences had been on top and there was no sense of what was going to come.
But it was former University of Oklahoma stand-out Rashard Odomes who took over the game down the stretch for the Romanians. Fourteen of his game-high 27 points came in that final eight minutes with his teammates feeding off his energy to turn the game on its head.
Voluntari closed out the game in that period by 28 points to 1o and whilst Newcastle never lay down or went away they just didn’t have enough in the tank to deal with a home side that responded to a vociferous local support.
Until that decisive period there had been little to choose between the sides. The first half was scrappy, committed hard-nosed basketball with neither side giving an inch nor taking a mile.
Voluntari did hold sway for most of the first twenty minutes but their biggest lead was only five points at any stage and every time they got to that mark Newcastle managed to cut the gap and stay in the game.
All eight of the Eagles got on the court and the score sheet with five of the eight netting double figures. Tahj Green and Darius Defoe being particularly impressive inside in the first two periods.
In the second two quarters it was the three-guard combo of Jordan Johnson, Rickey McGill and Whitfield that came to light. Impressive support too from Josh Ward-Hibbert and Larry Austin Jr.
Newcastle’s best period came when they closed out the third by four points to take a three-point advantage into the final period. Then Whitfield’s 8-points personal in a row gave them that nine point lead.
Sadly though for The Eagles it was then that Odomes took over ably assisted by fellow American Trevon Allen who netted 15 points in the game and some tough interior work at both ends of the floor to see the Romanians home in a tight entertaining encounter.
Last month Newcastle’s win in this same competition over Valmeria Glass of Latvia sparked a seven-match winning run. This time defeat last night means it’s three losses in a row in what is becoming a topsy-turvy season.
Next up for the Eagles is another tough road trip. This time to Cheshire Phoenix who are riding high in the British Basketball League standings sitting in second place. Marc Steutel will have to regroup his players and go again looking to stem another losing run.