It seems that every game Esh Group Eagles Newcastle play these days is a big one and a must win one. This afternoon’s clash against Plymouth Raiders on the road is no exception, writes Jeff King. After getting back in the BBL title race with a superb win at Leicester last weekend they need to follow it up with another down in Plymouth.

It won’t be easy. Although the team travelled down yesterday it’s still a long journey and a disruption to normal routines. Add in the fact that Plymouth has always been a difficult place for visitors to play and the fact that the Raiders are red-hot at the moment shows how difficult a task the Eagles have.

Plymouth’s unbeaten run through December earned Coach Paul James the Coach of the Month award and they doubled up that success with small forward Donte Nicholas talking the Player of the Month accolade. Eagles forward Jamal Williams recognises the task in front of his team-mates and himself today.

“It is a big game and obviously we want to start the New Year off right especially after our good win at Leicester. But this is a different team playing a different way so it’s going to be a different game. They’re in a good rhythm at the moment and playing really well especially at home.”

“It seems like they’ve found a group that works for them and it’s going to be a tough game for those factors. Add in the travel and it makes it difficult. They’ve added Rashad Hassan since we last played them and he adds a real presence and threat inside for them and something we didn’t face last time.”

The Eagles did win big down in Plymouth in October 103 – 85 and would love a repeat of that this afternoon but Williams knows Hassan’s presence makes it different.

“His inside play has given them a better all-round scoring threat as a team. We have to make sure we contain him and limit his options which in turn make their other options harder for them to convert.”

As well as being a tough game it’s a real interesting one for Williams as he played for virtually two seasons at Plymouth, played for two years under Coach Paul James at Worcester and was in the same London side as Hassan back in 2016. He’s almost like Eagles secret weapon in the camp.

“I know the environment down at Plymouth where they always seem to play well in front of their faithful fans who give them lots of support. Paul (James) always seems to find a way to make his guys prepare well especially at home. He’s always been really good with his experience at getting his teams ready.”

“I’ve had experience about playing with Hassan at London and against him when he was at Leicester so I guess I have a feel for the way he’s going to play and have good knowledge of him but he’s a top player in this league and has shown that since he’s come back this season.”

“He’s definitely a key for us but then you add in a player like Donte Nicholas who’s playing as well as anyone in the BBL at the moment, their point guard Josh Wilcher and shooter Joonas Jarvelainen it shows they have some nice pieces and we need to be on point as far as our defence goes.”

Eagles players and coaching staff always talk a lot about their defence and how important it is to their game plan and when they get it right, as they did last week against Leicester, it is a real springboard for them to create the offence they need to pick up vital wins.

“Defence is always key for us. Now that we have a real understanding of what the coaching staff want from us in that respect and wants us to do in that respect, we’ll not be changing much around in that respect week to week and I think we can show a more consistent stand point now going forward.”

The Eagles will be keen to put one over their South coast rivals as they face exactly the same opposition this coming Friday at the brand-new Eagles Community Arena opening night. A much-anticipated event that has been long looked forward too and brings a great sporting facility to the North East.