Leicester Riders21221222892Win

Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles slipped to a third loss on the bounce with Marc Steutel’s new-look roster still searching for cohesion and chemistry five games into the new campaign.

Not for the first time this season the men in black put themselves in a winning position heading into the fourth period.

And even when Larry Austin Jr tied a gripping contest at 78-78 with just over three minutes on the clock, the Eagles could still sense a much-needed victory.

Tajh Green giving the crowd a boost with one of his signature dunks (Photo & Featured Photo: Gary Forster)

But dogged Leicester responded with a 12-3 tear to lead 90-81 with 30 seconds on the clock and there was suddenly no way back for Newcastle.

Steutel’s men must now look to cap a tough run of three games in six days with a win at Sheffield on Sunday.

And the Eagles’ playcaller admitted: “Where we’re at as a group, at the back end of some travel and some heavy minutes, it’s a must-win basketball game.

“We have to do some reflecting individually and collectively and move forward.”

Watched by former Newcastle and Leicester favourite Drew Sullivan, two of British basketball’s most celebrated franchises slugged it out throughout a punishing first period.

And a 21-21 scoreline heading into quarter two reflected the ebb and flow of an eye-catching top three clash.

Riders opened up a five-point lead heading into the half but in-form Jordan Johnson closed out the third quarter with five points to open up a 65-64 Eagles advantage.

Jordan Johnson drives towards the Leicester bucket at The Vertu Motors Arena (Photo: Gary Forster)

That the hosts failed to do their job down the stretch for the third successive game was a source of huge frustration for the vocal home support.

And Steutel pulled no punches as he reflected on the key turning points that led to another agonising loss.

“Poor execution on finishing our plays, failing to put the ball in the hoop and a lack of attention to detail in the scout — all of that hurt us,” he added.

“I look at the stats and see Kimbal Mackenzie getting to the line 10 times and he’s a 90 per cent free throw shooter. He had 16 points and half of them were from the line.

“When a guy’s impacting like that and you know what his game is then that’s disappointing.

“I thought we were a little bit indisciplined with our fouling at times. We want to play pressure basketball but I think we sent them to the line too many times.

“And the offensive rebounds felt really big and I felt they really hurt us — every time we tried to get a bit of momentum they came out and hit a big shot.”

Johnson’s 22 points, five rebounds and three assists paced the Eagles on a night when Tajh Green added 17 personal.

Larry Austin Jr forced his way into the starting five and a stat line featuring 13 points, five rebounds and three assists hinted at more to come from the former Cheshire Phoenix favourite.

“We’re four league games in and we’ve got one guy who’s been in this organisation before,” added Steutel. “It’s a brand new group.

“I’ve said this consistently — when you put experience and talent together you’ve still got to find a way for it to mesh. That comes with habits and behaviours and there are times when our concentration for the task in hand, in that moment, isn’t amazing.

“We just have to try and figure that out and start finishing our good looks.”