BBL Play-Off Semi Final (First Leg)
Sheffield Sharks 90 (22,46,69) (Cook 18, Holmes 18, Barber 14)
Esh Group Eagles Newcastle 91 (17,45,73) (Martin 24, A. Thomson 17, Lasker 15)
Rahmon Fletcher’s basket with three seconds to play gave Esh Group Eagles Newcastle the narrowest of leads, 90-91, heading into the second leg of their BBL Play-Off semi final against Sheffield Sharks.
It was a fitting end to a game that had been tight throughout, despite former Eagle Olu Babalola and consecutive baskets from Zach Gachette putting the Sharks up 22-15 early on.
Fletcher opened the second stanza with a three-pointer as the Eagles hit seven in a row, taking the lead on Andy Thomson’s score; but the run in to half time saw ten lead changes and the teams tied on six occasions, before it took a Mike Cook buzzer-beater to separate them at the break, Sharks leading 46-45.
But in the second half the league-winning Eagles, with three trophies already in the bag, looked like they might establish a strong lead to take back to their home court, as Scott Martin – who led all scorers on the night with 24 points – hit a three-pointer. He then capped a run of eight unanswered points with an ‘and-one’ play, and Newcastle had established a double-digit lead at 61-71.
But such a lead wouldn’t last long, as Sheffield came back, posting a 12-2 response over the fourth quarter break, Mike Tuck tying the game once more at 73.
Charles Smith responded with a three-pointer, and Eagles managed to regain their lead at 79-87 with Drew Lasker influential as he dished for Darius Defoe and made an old-fashioned three-point play of his own.
But the Sharks rallied in front of a capacity home crowd, hitting 11 in a row down the stretch as BJ Holmes scored five including a three-pointer to give them the lead at 90-89 inside the final minute.
That was Fletcher’s cue to score the game-winning basket with three seconds to play, ensuring Newcastle beat Sheffield for the fourth time this season. It will be a tall order for Sharks as they aim to prevent Eagles from reaching the final for the fourth successive season: it is four years since they won in Newcastle, a run of 11 games, and they have never won in the North East in a post-season game.