BBL champions Newcastle Eagles had to go to overtime for the fourth game in a row before they sealed their 21st straight home win and finally saw off the challenge of the Sheffield Sharks in the last game of the regular season, writes JEFF KING.
It gives Newcastle a 29-4 record in the league and they are now firmly established as a side that simply refuses to be beaten, although for once this was not a come-from-behind win like the previous three that had gone to extra minutes.
This time a poor fourth quarter from the Eagles almost cost them dearly as they allowed the Sharks to come back at them and force the extra period. Once they were in that additional five minutes, though, Newcastle put their foot back on the gas and cruised to victory.
The mood all night had been celebratory as Fabulous Flournoy and his men had received the BBL Championship trophy and their winners’ medals before the game in front of another large and adoring home crowd. And with Jeremy Hyatt and “Prince” Charles Smith back in the line-up, the fans sat back to enjoy what they hoped would be another regulation home win.
The first quarter started well for the Eagles, with Lynard Stewart looking dominant inside, and they were soon up by eight points at 18-10. Flournoy was even able to introduce both Hyatt and Smith in to the game inside the first 10 minutes and Smith got on the scoresheet, but Sharks took the last five points of the quarter to cut the gap to 27-23.
A 6-1 start by the visitors put them back in front before Newcastle restored order with a 9-0 run and closed out the first half 46 -39 ahead, with Steve Leven and Stewart leading the way for the home team.
Newcastle held their lead as the second half opened and, when Sharks closed to within three, it was Smith and Leven who gave the Eagles an 11-point lead going in to the final 10 minutes at 64-53.
From positions like this Newcastle normally close out proceedings, but they got sloppy against a Sheffield side who were looking for their seventh consecutive league win that would have given them fifth place in the BBL. They produced a 9-0 run that reduced the arrears to one at 64-63.
Newcastle responded but then a succession of turnovers allowed Sharks back in, and an 8-3 run had them within three with half a second left on the clock and then Alto Virgil somehow sank a three-point basket to take the game to overtime.
Unfortunately, Virgil went from hero to villain in the overtime period. With Newcastle just a single point up he committed his fifth foul to give Eagles’ Smith the chance to go to the free-throw line and then picked up a technical foul to make it four free shots.
Smith made three of four and then scored from the resultant possession to give his side a six-point cushion that they were not going to let slip this time, and they turned the screw so effectively as Sharks tired that they ran out comfortable winners by 95-84.
Flournoy will look at that slack fourth quarter and know his side should not have needed overtime last night. However, he will also draw heart from the fact that once again they won a tight game under pressure with the additional bonus of having the mercurial Smith back in the rotation at the sharp end of proceedings.
Next up for Newcastle will be the Worcester Wolves at the Metro Radio Arena in the BBL quarter-final play-off game. The winners go to the finals weekend in Birmingham for the chance of more glory and the Eagles will be looking to make home-court advantage count.
TOP SCORERS – Newcastle: Steve Leven 23, Olu Babalola 17, Charles Smith 17. Sheffield: Shelby Chaney 25, Atiba Lyons 19, Nathan Neisler 14.