Esh Group Eagles Newcastle take the long road trip to Surrey today for this afternoon’s final BBL Championship clash of the regular season with the possibility of the runners-up spot in the table still alive, writes Jeff King.
Newcastle need to win, and hope London Lions slip up at Cheshire Phoenix later in the day to secure a worthy second place but whatever the results, Eagles can finish no lower than third place after a frustrating season plagued with injuries for Fab Flournoy’s men.
Almost back to full fitness, the roster made short work of Plymouth Raiders on Friday night in a devastating display of team basketball to take a massive 118 – 78 win. Team basketball and healthy players are the keys for the Eagles as they move in to play-off mode after today’s game.
Croatian forward Jure Gunjina was in buoyant mood after helping his side to a great win on Friday night with an excellent contribution of 12 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists. He insists his team-mates are in the mood to go deep in the play-offs as they look to finish the season in style.
“It was a very good win. Coach Forrester said at the half we had 25 assists as a team which meant we were passing the ball around well, everyone was getting touches, and everyone was feeling good and satisfied. We did a good job of sharing the ball and meant we got 118 points.”
“It’s been a transition season. Everyone here is used to having Newcastle Eagles at the top and winning trophies. This season it hasn’t been that way and we know our fans have been disappointed, but we still have a chance of getting this last one and that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
“We know we need London to drop a game, but Surrey is not a dead game to us. We need to go out there play our best game and use it as preparations for the play-offs where we could face them again.”
“We can perhaps try a few new things, put in some different plays but it’s also about putting in a good performance and keeping ten guys healthy and in rhythm for those play-offs.”
Plymouth may not have been the strongest opposition for the Eagles on Friday night but when a team who is already leading the league in assists with just over 23 a game drops 40 assists on a team and 118 points it certainly makes people sit up and take the message.
“I keep on saying this throughout the year, us sharing the ball between everyone else just opens up a lot. We have guys that can drive in, can shoot from anywhere and do everything on the court.”
“If we can be able to put that to the spot, passing the ball to the open guy I think we can fight anybody especially in the play-offs when it’s all about the games in front of you and there are no second chances.”
It’s clear that Gunjina and the rest of the Eagles have been and are now gearing up for a tilt at the BBL’s final piece of silverware for the season and looking to salvage something from an injury-ravaged campaign.
“It is all about the play-offs now. Today’s game at Surrey we’re trying to get a win. We’re obviously not going on this long trip just to lose the game. We’ll go there looking to win on the road and play well and maintain our form.”
“But we know whatever happens there when it’s over we’ll know who we play in the play-offs and it’s about having a week to prepare for the first-round next weekend and hoping we’re ready to play when that comes around.”