Fit-again Ben Mockford insists Newcastle can confound the critics and complete this season’s playoff push as the Eagles bid for back-to-back wins against the Caledonia Gladiators.
Tonight’s trip to Glasgow sets up a mouthwatering rematch between two storied opponents with the dust still to settle on last Friday’s fractious clash on Tyneside.
And it seems Mockford has timed his return from injury to perfection as the men in black chase the two wins required to stamp the last remaining ticket for 2023’s post-season party.
The veteran guard rolled back the years with 15 points against the Gladiators six days ago — earning warm praise from Caledonia coach and former GB colleague Gareth Murray.
And after helping to guide the Eagles to a vital 88-78 win, Mockford said: “At every position we match up well with Caledonia and we’re going there looking for another win.
“They’re a very good offensive team and they get out in transition. They push the ball very fast.
“We know they’re a different team in Glasgow and so we can’t take anything for granted. In fact, we have to go up there this week and take our game to another level.”
Mockford backed up his key contribution against the Gladiators with another 25 minutes at champions London Lions 48 hours later.
And the 33-year-old, who announced his retirement from international basketball earlier this month, is in line to start a second successive game tonight.
“It felt good to get some minutes under my legs last weekend after such a long time out,” he added. “The points are the points — my team-mates found me on Friday but more importantly we came together as a group.
“London on Sunday was a free hit but for spells we showed that we’re a really good basketball team.
“Unfortunately, this game is a 40-minute game and so if you don’t do it for the full four quarters then you’re not going to be celebrating many victories.”
Mockford slotted into the starting five at the Copper Box Arena in the absence of Javion Hamlet, who limped off the court last Friday with an injury, which meant the American guard was forced to miss the Sunday afternoon game and is a question mark for tonight’s tip-off.
A physical affair peaked midway through the final quarter when David Cohn was taken out off the ball by Gladiators’ David Sloan.
And that head-to-head will demand the closest of scrutiny in tonight’s rematch with two of the league’s toughest competitors set to lock horns again.
Mockford played down an ugly incident when he added: “For the most part the referees allowed a physical game to flow last time out.
“Refereeing is a very difficult job and every team is always going to disagree with calls both ways.”
Newcastle head coach Marc Steutel, meanwhile, is delighted to have Mockford back in an Eagles jersey.
After making the experienced guard one of his priority signings last summer, the club’s playcaller said: “I know Ben very well and what we saw against the Gladiators was who he is and what he can do.
“I think you can see what it means to him to be back on court and in the mix.
“He’s tried to speed up his rehab because he wants to play a part in how we finish the season. You can see what it means to him.
“He’s worked tirelessly to put himself in this position and that’s the Ben that we always wanted.
“I feel for him that he’s had a disrupted season with injury but that Ben Mockford we’ve seen in the last week — a player who can space the floor defensively — is a player we need.
“People don’t realise but off the ball he’s so solid defensively, he rotates well, he’s exceptionally smart and he communicates really well.
“I’m pleased that we’re able to get a contribution from him before the season’s over.”