OLU BABALOLA showed just why he loves the play-offs after his sparkling 21-point performance kept the Eagles’ dreams of a historic fourth successive play-off championship alive. The man who was crowned the most valuable player in last year’s final, is now just 40 minutes away from having another crack at that accolade as the Eagles finally saw off a plucky Worcester side 105-96.
It was another Londoner who supported Babalola as Darius Defoe showed why he is one of the hottest young talents in the game with a mature 20 points and six rebounds. While Babalola scored 10 of 12 points just when the Eagles needed a lift in the second half, it was the defence of the forward that was pivotal.
He explained ‘I was happy to get some points but anybody on our team can score, and I guess that it was my turn this time. I prefer to talk about our defence, not just from my own viewpoint but as a team, because that is what we are all about.’
‘We knew that Worcester would come and run up and down the floor as they are a quick-scoring team that likes to get involved in shoot-outs. I think our preparation for this game was vital because having watched a lot of game tapes we knew what our strategy needed to be and, while we took a while to put it in place, once we did we were always confident we would win.’
‘I am so happy for the fans, the club and the team because we can now go to Birmingham and look to go for four in a row and bring that Trophy back home with us again. That is something to be excited about and why I love to be here and want to stay here like just about everyone at the club.’
The Eagles will be hoping they can progress in next Saturday’s semi-final but the real relief is that they overcame a dangerous and feisty Worcester side. Led by Skouson Harker, for so long the nemesis of Fab Flournoy, the two player-coaches clashed again but this time blood was split in sheer determination and effort rather than anything sinister.
Harker led his team superbly, as did his counterpart, in a game that ebbed and flowed despite having a brutally physical streak from start to finish. The Eagles shaded the first quarter 23-18, but Worcester fought back with a 12-0 run in the second period to trail by just one point at 52-51 at the break.
It was in the third quarter that the Eagles took the game by the scruff of the neck to win the game.
The scoring burst by Babalola, Newcastle having more athletic and dominant big men, and foul trouble for the visitors all conspired against Worcester as they ran out of steam and the Eagles eased into the semis.
NEWCASTLE: Babalola 21, Defoe 20, Leven 15
WORCESTER: Life 29, Paez 24, Harker 20