Newcastle Eagles travelled to the Ellesmere Port Sporting Village yesterday to take on a tough Cheshire Phoenix side that were in the top four of the BBL table.
Phoenix had only lost twice on the home court this season so it was always going to be a tough ask for Head Coach Marc Steutel’s men.
They did though travel with confidence and hope after a great victory at home 48 hours earlier at home in the Vertu Motors Arena over closest rivals Sheffield Sharks. Steutel and his players hoping perhaps that had been the game they needed to turn the season around.
The cold final analysis though was in the end it wasn’t and Eagles slipped to another defeat on the road where they were victims perhaps of their own making. The first twenty minutes of the game are certainly ones that Newcastle would love to have all over the game.
Literally nothing went right for them in the first two quarters and at half-time they looked down and out. They deserve some credit for the character and spirit they showed in the second half and especially the third quarter but the damage was done in the first two periods.
Point Guard David Cohn being ejected from the game with two technical fouls which followed Ben Mockford having to be carried from the court after he landed awkwardly on his ankle after making a 3-point basket with his only shot of the game.
To lose one player when they were already facing a deficit was bad enough but the impact of losing their on-court general so soon after put the Eagles into a massive hole that was just to deep to scramble out of as once again they failed to build on a promising result in the previous game.
Phoenix broke the game open early when with the scores level at four points each they went on a 13 – 3 run that forced Steutel into a time-out. Eagles, who never led at any stage in the game did trim that lead to eight at one stage.
Cheshire though finished the first the stronger with the last five points and took a 26 – 13 advantage into the second period. That’s when things got really tough for Newcastle as poor defensive play, Mockford’s injury and Cohn’s technical trouble combined to virtually take the game away from them.
Eagles were down 34 – 15 and looking frustrated and within a 39-second timespan those frustrations boiled over. Mockford had left the game and Cohn picked up the two infringements that sent him to the locker room to join his injured teammate.
It was too much for Newcastle who all but collapsed under the disruption and found themselves 56 – 30 down thanks to Tahjai’s huge three-pointer on the final first-half buzzer.
As the second half unfolded the sides traded baskets but clearly Newcastle’s pride had been dented and they were keen and determined to try and show their quality at both ends of the floor. Defensive adjustments were made and that sparked their offence.
An unanswered ten point run forced a Phoenix time-out. Whatever adjustment Cheshire made it didn’t work as Newcastle continued to close them down and scored the last nine points of a huge 23 – 7 quarter that got back to within ten points as they went into the final ten minutes.
But that was as good as it got. Cheshire’s captain Larry Austin Jr. was his side’s go-to player and supported well by Marcus Evans the lively backcourt duo managed to keep Newcastle at bay as the home side closed out a win that in the end was deserved.
Whilst Steutel will no doubt taken some solace in the second half performance there’s little doubt that he’ll pour over the footage of the first to see what went wrong and what his team need to improve on before their next game at high flying Bristol Flyers.