Halfway through the group stage of the newly remodelled BBL Cup and a competition in danger of dragging its heels was in urgent need of fresh impetus.
What better way to reignite interest in a flagging format than by pairing north group table toppers Newcastle Eagles with fierce rivals Sheffield Sharks?
In terms of pure entertainment the tactic worked a trick.
Two fully committed teams went at it hammer and tongs for 45 minutes but there could only be one winner. And all the drama of another overtime thriller proved scant consolation for home fans aghast at Newcastle’s timid surrender down the stretch.
On reflection, the contrast to the Eagles’ lightning start was painfully stark.
A frenetic first quarter rained threes and when John Mitchell hit a towering triple from way downtown only Rahmon Fletcher, of Newcastle’s starting five, had failed to find the basket from beyond the arc.
A blistering opening befitting a huge homecourt crowd saw the Eagles surge 14-6 ahead in little over four minutes. And although a steely Sheffield shot themselves back into contention, the first of a series of comebacks underpinning a never-say-die attitude, Drew Lasker was quick to join the three-point party.
But the best was still to come at the conclusion of a breathless opening quarter as Rodney Glasgow Jr pulled off a spectacular four-point play to fire the hosts 27-21 in front. A hotly anticipated clash between two bitter rivals was already living up to the hype.
In what had been billed as the battle of the BBL’s most dynamic backcourt pairings it was Glasgow who looked the most likely matchwinner. Comfortably leaving Sheffield pair Nick Lewis and Mackey McKnight in the shade, Newcastle’s rookie guard was running riot and relishing his competitive debut at the Eagles Community Arena.
Doing it for the bigs were Bronx bruiser John Mitchell and Sharks’ Bennet Koch. The latter had impressed in pre-season as Newcastle and Sheffield squared a two-match friendly series but that was before Mitchell winged his way to Tyneside.
The Eagles’ final signing of a busy summer has made an instant impression and enjoyed a classic contest in the paint with the relentless Koch. Both players went into the half with 13 points but there was only one winner when it came to controlling the boards – Mitchell hauling down eight rebounds to his rival’s one.
The only downside of a free-flowing first half was the extended absence of forward Sade Aded Hussein. The popular Frenchman has burst onto the BBL scene after recovering from a pre-season injury but three early fouls limited his first half impact.
Hussein was back on court at the outset of the third period but all eyes were on a resurgent Sharks as an end-to-end clash swung back in the visitors’ favour. A 14-0 Sheffield tear – which started with the final basket of the second period – was finally snapped by Nick Schlitzer but not before Atiba Lyons’ men had reduced the deficit to five.
Nevertheless, trailing by 10 points with little more than three minutes to play in the fourth quarter, it looked like game over for the visitors. What followed was a self-inflicted Eagles implosion that must have left MacLeod fuming.
Incredibly, given the hosts’ position of strength just moments earlier, Lewis had the chance to hit the game-winning shot for the Sharks with 10 seconds of regulation time remaining. Only a stunning rejection from the tireless Lasker kept Newcastle in contention but by then the Eagles were stuck in a stinker of a scoreless rut.
Overtime ensued but where the Eagles had been red-hot they were suddenly hesitant. Where MacLeod’s men had been direct they were suddenly dithering. Drama, yes. But bitter disappointment too.
Tickets are on sale now for our visit to the Sharks next Friday night from our special price of just £10 per person sitting in an Eagles fans section behind our team bench at Ponds Forge: