Marc Steutel insists his battling Eagles will fight to the finish as Newcastle launch a final bid to save their season.
The men in black face a tough trip to London Lions tonight less than a week after coughing up the chance to beat the champions-elect on Tyneside.
But with nine league games to go Steutel doesn’t doubt the character or commitment of a roster playing its best basketball of the season — despite a heartbreaking run of results.
“I know it’s easy to say this but people who know me, know I’m an honest guy,” said Steutel.
“The responsibility is on me in terms of where we’re at as a club and the record we have this season.
“But I can assure you that this group comes in every day and they work so hard. They really do.
“I’ve seen teams in this situation before that have just capitulated and checked out. That’s not this group.
“These players are genuinely competing and fighting in the right way.
“We’ve come very close to some big wins in the last few weeks and I want those wins for the group. They deserve it.”
Remarkably, Newcastle put themselves in pole position to beat all of the BBL’s top four teams this month.
But the Eagles’ own take on March Madness has seen Steutel’s men inexplicably surrender leads against London, Bristol, Leicester and Manchester.
Victories in any of those fixtures would have transformed the look of a Championship table that has Newcastle sitting in ninth position — six points adrift of eighth-placed Plymouth.
That the Eagles have nothing to show for a series of improved displays remains a source of huge frustration for a reflective Steutel.
“We’re playing good basketball right now,” he added. “But good basketball has to equate to wins.
“One of the challenges within our group is that when we get into foul situations — particularly in the ball handling, guard position — the game becomes a little bit more difficult to manage.
“We have to find a way to overcome that and I thought we did that against the Lions last week.
“I felt like that was the performance I’d been looking for in terms of the looks that we were getting.
“That was a proper Eagles team — defending, running, guarding, sharing the ball and playing at pace.”One factor in Newcastle’s favour tonight is that London have been forced to play two games in two days due to their EuroCup commitments.
The Lions hosted Turk Telecom Ankara last night and Ryan Schmidt faces some tough decisions as the play-caller looks to rotate an albeit deep roster to maximum effect.
Steutel faces problems of his own with Ben Mockford unlikely to feature before next Friday’s homecourt clash against Cheshire Phoenix.
And big man Hasahn French faces a late fitness test after missing Sunday’s narrow loss at Manchester following a painful collision with team-mate Darius Defoe last week.
One player guaranteed to start is the BBL’s leading scorer Javion Hamlet and London will have to find a way of stopping the league’s most dangerous shooter if they’re to bounce back from Sunday’s shock loss to Sheffield.
“Javion’s IQ throughout the season has improved but we have to remember that this is his first full season as a pro,” added Steutel.
“He’s exceptionally skilled at creating and scoring and getting in the paint. I thought his decision-making against London was better for the most part last week and we will need the same again down there.”
Tonight’s game tips off at 7.30pm and the action will be screened live and for free on the BBL’s YouTube channel.