It’s all to play for this afternoon at London’s Copper Box Arena when Esh Group Eagles Newcastle take their slender two-point lead in to the Lions Den for the second leg of the BBL Cup Semi-Final. That’s after a fascinating and tense first-leg finished 75 – 73 in favour of the Eagles.
That game at Northumbria University was a tight one virtually throughout the entire 4o minutes with both sides having the lead at times and both sides battling back. Newcastle did on more than one occasion lead by as many as eight points but couldn’t fully tame a determined Lions side.
The Eagles were led by 22 points from influential point guard Rahmon Fletcher who also found time to dish out 8 assists during the game and made the driving lay-up that gave his side that two-point advantage on Friday night.
Whilst many may believe Newcastle needed a bigger lead to take to London, Fletcher was just pleased his side had edged the win and returned to some of their playing principles in the game which he felt had been missing in their last few games.
“It’s a win. A win is a win especially coming off the back of the two losses we had in London last time out. For me it’s a different competition and two points is nothing. As far as I’m concerned it’s zero – zero going in to the Copper Box and we’ve got to be ready.”
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“What pleased me most about Friday’s game was our defensive intensity something that I think has been missing in the last couple of weeks or so. They way we won and the way we defended is something that has to be our staple. Offence will come but defence has to be our staple.”
Given that Newcastle had been mauled by the Lions 96 – 78 in their last clash, Fletcher was pleased that they had bounced back well against such tough opposition and wasn’t too concerned that they didn’t win by a bigger margin.
“It’s basketball. They’re top of the league for a reason. If we’d won by twenty I’d have been super happy but we won by two and need to take that momentum in to today’s game and we’ll see which way it falls.”
Whilst Fletcher top scored for the home side GB International guard and the man that took over from Fletcher as BBL MVP, Justin Robinson had 21-points for London and the clash between the two was a feature on Friday and will be again today.
“I have nothing but respect for Justin. He’s a competitor and so am I. When you go between those lines there is no friends, no being nice and there’s going to be a lot of talking especially with the prize that’s on offer.”
That prize would be a Cup Final spot against either Manchester Giants or Glasgow Rocks who are both lower in the league than the other semi-final combatants meaning many see the winners’ of today’s clash as the overwhelming favourites to lift the Cup.
“For me a final is a final and whoever advances has to be ready to roll as that next team that awaits will have nothing to lose. For us to have that shot is to take on board how we played on Friday. That’s where we get our confidence from.”
“I keep mentioning our defensive intensity because that’s our key and has to be our focus. All the good things we do come easier if we’re locked in to our defensive principles that’s why it was pleasing to see that on Friday and that’s what we’ve got to bring today.”
Without doubt it’s the biggest game of Newcastle’s season so far and one they’d definitely love to win to set themselves up not just for a Cup Final appearance but the rest of the BBL season.