Caledonia Gladiators1924161978Loss

The Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles who had finished 6th in the British Basketball League regular season standings travelled to Scotland to take on the 3rd placed finishing Caledonia Gladiators. After 40 minutes basketball any neutral watching would have assumed the standings were the other way round.

Newcastle were simply irresistible all game. Never behind and only tied-up three times in the whole game they produced a sensational performance cumulating in a magnificent final quarter to take a one game lead in what could be a three-game quarter final playoff series.

It is though advantage Eagles as the two sides have a week to prepare for Game 2 which will be held in the Vertu Motors Arena next Friday night. A repeat of the result in that game will see Newcastle move forward to the semi-finals. A win for Caledonia and the third game will be back up in Scotland.

Eagles now head to the Vertu Motors Arena on Friday knowing a win will send them through to the next round. (Photos: Caledonia Gladiators)

This Eagles side have at times looked unbeatable during the regular season but also at times very ordinary. Their only consistency being their inconsistency. But when they get it right as they did in this game the talent, ability and power of Head Coach Marc Steutel’s team is evident to all.

It was a massive result and one that means Newcastle will face a week of practice in good heart, with confidence high and looking to seal the deal in front of their own fanbase in a week’s time. Gladiators on the other hand have a lot of soul searching to do to come up with a game plan to reverse fortunes.

Not that Steutel and his players will assume its job done. It is of course far from it. They have to get this game and performance out of their mind and concentrate on preparing for the next 40 minutes of playoff basketball.

Steutel sprang a surprise on his counterpart Gareth Murray by not starting top scoring point guard Jordan Johnson giving Devin Whitfield the nod instead. Whether this was aimed at being able to bring Johnson off the bench to good effect or some other master plan it certainly worked.

With the Eagles leading 10 to 8 and 4 minutes 44 seconds played, Steutel let loose Johnson into the fray and the high-performing superstar and his teammates never looked back from that moment on until the final buzzer.

Caledonia’s first tie had come at 4-points apiece. From their Newcastle took the lead and kept it throughout the first period. Twice they led by seven points and when Johnson tripled late on in the first ten minutes the lead was eight at 24 to 16 and Newcastle looked in control.

Mike Bothwell did though make three from three from the free-throw line to end the first period and cut the Eagles lead to 24 – 19 as the teams prepared for the second quarter. That quarter was probably the home side’s best although once again Newcastle virtually led throughout it.

Five early points by Larry Austin Jr. gave the visiting English side their first double-digit lead of the contest at 29 – 19. Gladiators hung tough though and 14 – 4 run drew them level at 33-points all. Johnson with support from Darius Defoe, Tahj Green and Rickey McGill but Eagles back in front.

Inside the last minute of the half Newcastle led once again by seven points but the last five points of the period went to Caledonia meaning the Eagles only led by two points at 45 – 43 as the sides headed for the locker rooms.

Caledonia carried that momentum into the third quarter scoring the opening basket to level the game for a third time but Eagles response was emphatic and decisive as they ripped off ten unanswered points to take control of the contest once again.

The closest the home side could get from that position was within six and that was the margin with Newcastle leading 65 – 59 heading into the final quarter. And what a ten-minute period Steutel’s side produced in that time. High-octane offence and solid defensive work simply blew Gladiators away.

Seven straight points from Johnson got Newcastle’s advantage up to 13-points and it was beginning to look like game over. A further 9 points to 1 burst from the Eagles confirmed it with Defoe adding to it the sixth seeds lead peaked at 21 points and that was effectively that.

Perhaps Newcastle may look at this and wish that the ‘old’ style two-game aggregate was in play and they could defend home court knowing they had 19-points to play with. As it is a single one-point win either way could either mean series over or a third game will be required.

But that’s for next Friday to decide. Until then Newcastle will bathe in the knowledge that they have the firepower and the game to take this in two. What they need to do is show some consistency and nail that possibility down.

For Newcastle, Johnson was sensational netting 31 points and dishing out 7 assists to lead his team but his support was very good as all-around him there were great contributions. The veteran Darius Defoe hitting 15 points with 4 rebounds.

Fellow forward Tahj Green had 14 points and 4 rebounds whilst Johnson’s back court partners Larry Austin Jr with 13 points and 5 rebounds and Rickey McGill with 12 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists also played a massive part. Devin Whitfield adding 8 points and Josh Ward-Hibbert 4.

Advantage Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles then and next Friday in a sold-out Vertu Motors Arena is looking like a game that should not be missed.