The Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles held off a determined Keila Coolbet final quarter comeback to take a magnificent and hugely important road win in their European North Basketball League Group game, writes Jeff King.
For much of the game the Eagles with Rickey McGill in imperious form and veteran Captain Darius Defoe leading from the front were in control of the outcome and even led by 15 points at 78 – 63 with only a click under six and a half minutes to play.
That’s when Keila began the fightback and almost shocked Newcastle as they came back to within two at 84 points to 82 with 69 seconds left to play. But McGill who was excellent all night and Defoe who had his biggest game of the season when it mattered remained calm.
With the home side running out of time and having no alternative but to slow The Eagles down by fouling, Newcastle’s big two on the night drained five from five from the charity stripe to put just enough daylight between the two sides and cement a superb victory in Estonia.
The win takes Newcastle to a 4 wins 2 loss record in the group with Zielona Gora of Poland to come to the Vertu Motors Arena in just under a fortnight’s time. A win at home in front of their own faithful fans will surely take the Eagles into the knockout stages of this prestigious European competition.
Something that they hoped for but perhaps didn’t expect going up against top sides from established basketball countries that have greater experience in these type of situations. It would certainly make the whole adventure form the forward-thinking Newcastle franchise worthwhile.
Newcastle who have gone through a crippling injury crisis over the last month were boosted pre-tip-off with the return to their bench of Scott Spencer and in particular Josh Ward-Hibbert. The latter certainly adding welcome support to the roster.
But, almost as usual, it was the usual suspects that influenced the game and result with Jordan Johnson and Larry Austin Jr. giving McGill marvellous support in the back court and Malcolm Delpeche and Tahj Green doing like wise for Defore in the front court.
The Eagles certainly opened in flying style scoring the first seven points of a game they had to win tp keep their play-off hopes alive. Keila hit back but Newcastle looked in the mood and were eight points up at 13 to 5 before the home side found their feet.
Their comeback leading to a back and forth first ten minutes that Newcastle just edged 23 to 21. The second saw The Eagles lead throughout the period but Coolbet never went away. Every time Newcastle with Defoe netting 11 personal in the quarter looked like edging away back game Keila.
However, once again Newcastle took the quarter and Ward-Hibbert’s ‘circus’ style triple on the buzzer meant that the English side led 51 – 43 going to the locker rooms, the biggest gap of the night. The third was very much like the second. Green with some thunderous dunks managed to keep control for the Eagles.
Once again they shaded a close quarter by 18 points to 14 meaning they took a crucial 12-point advantage into the final ten minutes. It was to prove decisive in the end as they withstood that final quarter effort from the home side who took the final period but not by enough.
All of Newcastle’s starting five ended in double figures with Austin Jr., Johnson and Green all having ten points giving great support to the two stars of the show, Defoe and McGill. It was McGill that just about stole the MVP honours with a huge double-double of 26 points and 11 rebounds.
But Defoe, realising a European dream after 20 years with the Eagles franchise, was not far behind with a superb 24 points and 7 rebounds on a night when this exciting Newcastle side laid down their intentions to take this international adventure deeper into the season.