Plymouth Raiders1921152176Loss

In different circumstances Mike Morsell might have been midway through his second season in a Newcastle vest and well on his way to securing cult status as an Eagle.

Twelve months ago the Maryland native was a permanent fixture in Ian MacLeod’s starting five and a huge crowd favourite among the ECA faithful.

Watch highlights of Eagles vs Plymouth Raiders


But then Covid-19 struck, the BBL’s immediate future became increasingly unclear and, like so many of his fellow countrymen, an anxious Morsell caught the first plane home as the UK prepared to enter lockdown.

Returning to Tyneside as a Plymouth Raider, the 24-year-old didn’t necessarily have a point to prove.

But Morsell’s impressive 21 points and eight rebounds were almost enough to snatch victory for the impressive visitors.

And Plymouth had every right to feel robbed of the points as two huge Newcastle steals in the final 12 seconds laid the foundation for a dramatic Eagles win.

Darius Defoe hit two free throws in the final ten seconds to secure a one point Eagles win (Credit: Kieron Carr).

Morsell might have left the North East under a cloud — choosing to fly out on the eve of last season’s BBL Trophy final — but the versatile forward proved to be a popular and effective player during his short spell in Newcastle.

A strong start to his career with Raiders gathered pace last Friday as the American bagged 17 points and five boards on the losing side against Leicester.

And Morsell made an instant impression on a familiar floor, leading all Plymouth scorers against his former club with 10 points at the half.

Just one point had separated the two teams in Plymouth last month as the homecourt Raiders snatched a thrilling 77-76 win on the south coast.

And two evenly matched sides were tied 40-40 after 20 minutes of basketball in a fiercely contested return fixture which was often more about brute strength than eye-catching skill.

Paul James’ side had clearly done their homework on a Newcastle team that had secured its place in the BBL Championship’s top three on the back of rapid transition offence.

Time and time again the committed visitors tracked back and stopped the Eagles at source with neither Rahmon Fletcher nor Cortez Edwards allowed an opportunity to seize the initiative and take control.

Cortez Edwards top scored for your Eagles with 22 points (Credit: Kieron Carr).

Forced to take a more measured approach in possession, the men in black set up a series of promising plays only to undo all their good work with a poor final pass.

And Fletcher, in particular, will have been frustrated to head to the locker room with four first half turnovers and just six points, shooting one from five from the field.

James must have been the happier of the two coaches heading into the second half with a finely tuned game plan working to perfection.

But MacLeod will have impressed on his players the need to stay focused and stick with the process on a night when Newcastle simply needed to click into third gear to find another win.

The 2021 BBL Cup finalists finally showed signs of slotting into a familiar rhythm midway through the third period — ironically as a result of a Morsell error.

Plymouth’s new boy gave up the ball on offence and all five Eagles flooded the lanes before Fletcher found Edwards for an easy two.

That score fired the hosts 49-45 ahead but Newcastle’s backcourt duo missed the chance to repeat the trick seconds later and the Raiders responded in style.

Six weeks after a tense affair went down to the wire, an equally nailbiting sequel was taking shape.

And part two of this season’s first GiveToLocal Super Sunday was comfortably living up to its pre-match billing.

The Eagles missed a fourth period chance to take a double-digit advantage before the Raiders launched a stunning 15-2 tear to lead 75-72 with 35 seconds remaining.

But with the clock ticking down Darius Defoe and Justin Gordon wrestled possession from Plymouth’s grasp on successive plays to secure one of the most memorable wins of the MacLeod era.