Newcastle Eagles and Plymouth City Patriots will battle it out for the BBL’s final playoff berth tomorrow as a frustrating regular season heads for a thrilling finish in the south west.
With the two sides locked together on 22 points — and with the league series tied at 1-1 — both teams can still secure a top eight spot.
And all eyes will be on a Newcastle side looking to maintain a proud playoff record that has seen the club stamp its ticket for the post-season party every year since 2000.
Ian MacLeod’s men went into the last homecourt clash of the regular season needing two wins from their final two league games to stand a chance of finishing inside the top eight.
Even then, the Eagles were relying on champions Leicester Riders defeating Plymouth in last night’s late tip-off.
And at the end of a busy night of BBL action, Newcastle’s 93-80 victory against the Rocks, combined with a predictable Patriots loss, set up a mouthwatering winner-takes-all shoot out for the final playoff spot.
The Eagles fully deserved their third league win of the season against cross border rivals Glasgow but a positive result was hardly guaranteed given the hosts’ sketchy form at the Vertu Motors Arena this season.
With the Sky Sports cameras in town to capture any potential upset, two familiar foes slugged it out during a points fest of a first period.
A sell-out crowd saw a combined 58 points poured in from every angle with both sides shooting in excess of 65% from the field.
And although the pace slackened slightly after the restart, confident Newcastle raced into a 14-point lead at the half.
Rahmon Fletcher had claimed five first quarter assists as the two-time BBL MVP chases down Alton Byrd’s all-time career assists average.
But two early fouls meant the Eagles skipper sat out the entire second period — not that he was missed.
Newcastle had followed up Monday’s battling performance in Bristol with another convincing first half display against the Rocks.
And with four players in double figures heading into the locker room it was advantage Eagles with 20 minutes to play.
The hosts led by 19 points after sealing the third quarter 28-23 and, despite a late wobble down the stretch, closed out the win required to put pressure on Plymouth.
Significantly, Fletcher became only the second player in BBL history to average 10 assists per game in a season when he dished up a trademark pass for Justin Gordon to dunk Newcastle into a 90-78 lead.
After passing Eagles legend TJ Walker to sit fifth in the all-time BBL assists table earlier this week, the veteran guard now requires another nine scoring passes at Plymouth to pip Byrd and claim the best career assists average in league history.
Prior to tip-off Newcastle owner Paul Blake and MacLeod spoke to Sky Sports in the wake of the decision to hand the latter a new role from the summer.
Blake revealed the search is well underway for MacLeod’s successor and promised a decision would be made soon.
“There have been a number of calls made and we’ve already had a lot of people knocking on the door,” he explained.
“There will be an announcement made at some point in the near future.
“This is a reset for the Eagles.
“We’re at the back end of a transitional period for the club.
“We want to be a winning team and it’s got to be coach led — it’s the new coach’s decision who the roster will be.
“I want us to be back in the top three next season and competing for trophies again. That’s where we should be.”
MacLeod will take up a role with the Eagles Foundation this summer as a coach with a 20-year association with Newcastle looks to develop the next generation of regional talent.
And in a frank interview the Geordie playcaller told former Newcastle favourite Drew Lasker that it was the right time to step down from the head coach’s role.
“First off we’re not having a great season,” he admitted. “It’s been a disappointing season and a difficult one.
“It’s the right time to move on for all parties.
“I’ve got a young family and team-wise we need a change of impetus.”