It seems the most consistent thing about this season’s Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles British Basketball League side is their inconsistency. Although to be fair you could mention their unpredictability as well as their definite ability to entertain.
When Marc Steutel’s side went on a seven-match winning run during November it seemed that the much-lauded summer recruitment campaign was finally coming to fruition. And then along came Surrey and Bristol.
The Eagles having fashioned that superb run that included wins on the road at both London and Caledonia were expected to keep it going when they came home to face the Scorchers and the Flyers. They didn’t and suddenly it was back to square 1.
Add in the defeat from the jaws of victory in Romania against CSO Voluntari in the European North Basketball League, when a nine-point lead with eight minutes to go turned into an eight-point loss, and it’s easy to see how crucial Sunday’s visit to Cheshire was.
In the end it may be another false dawn but it was certainly a very, very impressive away win against the side sitting second in the league standings and boasting both the player and the Coach of the month for November in their ranks.
A win that raises the Eagles to a 10 – 9 record and up to 4th place in the standings and looking to progress further. The intensity, commitment and all-round team play from the roster was excellent on the night with Rickey McGill the leader of a hungry pack.
His fourth 30+ points game of the season was very much the catalyst from which Newcastle built their platform but with five teammates also in double figures it was an explosive offensive performance that simply blew the Phoenix away.
McGill actually finished with an incredible 37 points that included 6 triples and 9 from 9 from the charity strip. He also added in 5 rebounds and 7 assists in a stellar MVP performance that lit up the night.
Tahj Green was also in fine form with a massive double-double of 19 points and 16 rebounds whilst Larry Austin Jr. haunted his old Club with 17 points and 6 rebounds from a surprise starting five role.
Further back up from Josh Ward-Hibbert with 13 points and 6 rebounds and Jordan Johnson and Devin Whitfield netting 11 and 10 points respectively meant the Eagles had six of their short-handed 8-man roster in double figures.
Even Darius Defoe with 4 points and Malcolm Delpeche with a single deuce but a massive 8 rebounds also played their part in a win that many may not have expected but shows exactly what this Eagles side is capable of.
Through the first quarter the game was tight early on. Ethan Chargois scored the game’s first points with almost two minutes gone with an And-1 play that gave Cheshire a three-point lead. Little did anyone know that was going to be as good as it got for Phoenix.
Whitfield was the first Eagle on the board with just over two minutes gone and then the game swayed one way then the other until a McGill inspired 9 – 0 run to close out the first period gave Newcastle an 11-point lead at 26 – 15.
Newcastle maintained that momentum going into the second period and twice led by as many as sixteen before a great Cheshire fightback saw them close to within three at 37 points to 40.
McGill and Austin Jr though steadied Newcastle with back to back triples after a Green free-throw and Newcastle closed the half with a 7 – 3 run to lead 47 points to 40 as the teams headed to the locker rooms.
As ever the third period was always going to be crucial and Cheshire looked dangerous as they closed to within five points. But McGill, Green and Austin jr. were not to be denied and got their side moving forward once again.
Eighteen points at one stage was the lead and as Newcastle went into the final period the gap was a significant one. Eagles took the third by 29 – 22 to lead by fourteen with ten minutes left to play.
Such had been their pressure and domination both inside and outside and at both ends of the floor that time and time again they found themselves at the free-throw line and a line that has often been their nemesis this season became their friend.
McGill and Austin Jr sharing 11 of 13 made free-throws down the stretch, Whitfield made the other two as Phoenix tried to slow both the clock and the Eagles scoring in the latter stages.
It was all to no avail as the impressive Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles took a superb road victory home to Tyneside and give themselves and their fans an early Christmas present.
The big question now as Steutel and his player’s go into their Christmas break full of festive cheer remains the same. Will it be this Eagles side that return after Christmas with the same intensity for the next part of the season.