The relief was palpable as the final buzzer sounded on Esh Group Eagles Newcastle’s 114 – 73 BBL Championship win at home against Leeds Force on Friday night, writes Jeff King. It brought to end a run of three successive home defeats and finally got The Eagles back on track.
Whilst the win against the league’s basement team had been expected, Newcastle had wanted to put in a performance for their fans and themselves to prepare for more difficult tasks down the line.
To come away with a 41-point margin given some of the circumstances they faced was a satisfying night’s work for Fab Flournoy’s men. Already without Terry Martin whose season-ending injury has been confirmed, they were also without Zarko Jukic who was on international duty.
Add in the fact that the week’s practice was disrupted with three players, Kai Williams, Drew Lasker and Captain Darius Defoe attending England’s Commonwealth Games trials and then losing Defoe through injury a mere 1:46 in to the game could have phased Newcastle.
But, it didn’t, thank largely to top scoring performances from Saah Nimley and Jaysean Paige ably supported by Jure Gunjina, Jamal and Kai Williams all of whom were in double figures on the night.
Another solid supporting role was played by back-up point guard A J Basi who hit 9 points in 26+ minutes of action and he stepped up after the game to discuss the performance of the team.
“We went over a six-week span without a win at home so we kind of owed it to ourselves and our fans especially. We came out in the second-half in out last couple of home games with a stinker, so it was nice to keep the energy up for 40 minutes.”
“I thought Jamal and Jure stepping in to the starting line-up with so many big guys out gave us valuable minutes and energy. It’s a professional league at the end of the day and we’re all pros. Leeds would have remembered what we did to them in the first game of the season, so we couldn’t take it easy.”
For Basi himself, life at The Eagles has been as a supporting player amongst the main cast so it must have felt good for him to play significant minutes and make a good contribution.
“It’s always nice to play a bit more but it’s just part of the job and you just have to be ready. We’re like ‘next man up’ so when you’re down a few bodies you’ve got to be ready to play when your numbers called.”
The Canadian born British passport holder felt the performance was every bit as important as the win.
“We were expecting to win but then we expect to win every game we play. It didn’t really matter who we were playing, the focus was on us this week. So, we’re glad that we put in the effort for 40 minutes and got our rewards.”
“It was nice to get the ball moving again and we shared 35 assists which was huge. Those last couple of losses that we had the ball stuck a little bit and we got a bit of complacent in the half-court offence, so it was nice to move the ball around and share it today.”
So, with The Eagles back to winning ways at home and on track again the focus turns to next Friday and the visit of the always dangerous and talented Worcester Wolves.
“It was a good confidence booster tonight and we’ll turn our attention to Worcester next. It’s pretty much about the same thing though, concentrating on us, sharing the ball and playing for a full 40 minutes. If we do that we should be fine.”
The game against Worcester tips-off next Friday night, 2nd March, at 7:30pm at Northumbria University Sport Central.