A trio of 20-point hauls saw Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles produce one of their best attacking displays of the season in an impressive win over Manchester Giants.
The triple threat of Jordan Johnson (23 points), Rickey McGill (21 points) and Josh Ward-Hibbert (20 points) overwhelmed the British Basketball League Championship’s leakiest defence while Tajh Green got one over his former club.
Marc Steutel’s men did not have things all their own way at the Vertu Motors Arena, particularly in a closely contested first half. However, the star power present on the Eagles roster all season showed what it is capable of as the hosts showed their ruthless side after the break.
The result came just three days after Newcastle recorded their first-ever European away win, in which they beat Valmiera Glass VIA 90-74, and saw the team manage once again without American ace Larry Austin Jr.
Looking to pick up where they left off in Latvia, Steutel kept faith with the same five that started Tuesday’s European win – McGill, Johnson, Green, Devin Whitfield, and captain Darius Defoe.
Looking to keep their distance from their rangy opponents, the Eagles found early joy from beyond the arc. When Johnson put the hosts 17-8 up with the hosts’ four successful three-pointer inside four minutes, it looked like they might blow Manchester away.
But the visitors showed admirable hunger, battling for rebounds at both ends and getting in the faces of the home players. Brian Semonian’s men chipped away at the Eagles’ lead with some effective work in the paint and then they surprised the home faithful by taking the lead through some sharp three-point shooting of their own.
A fascinating first quarter ended with Manchester leading 31-25 and there was little sign of the Eagles reclaiming the momentum as their early exploits largely deserted them. That being said, the visitors only extended their lead to nine early in the second period as they too were sloppy on offence.
The game just needed one player to seize control and in Johnson, Newcastle have a star capable of exploding into a supernova at any moment. He did just that in a spectacular three-minute burst that saw him torch the stunned visitors for 10 points.
By the end of it, the crowd was back on its feet and the Eagles were within touching distance. Manchester held a 51-49 lead at half-time and continued to cling on for a while after the restart but the hosts were now in the ascendancy.
Big man Green, whose presence grew as time went on, kickstarted a crucial 15-4 run that ultimately wrestled the game away from his old team. Midway through the third quarter, the forward threw down an emphatic dunk that fired up the Geordie faithful and rocked the visitors.
It was at that point that Ward-Hibbert started to make his presence felt. His lay-up soon after put the Eagles 61-60 up, giving them their first lead since the first quarter. He swiftly added another five points, with McGill and Johnson pushing the Eagles to a 72-64 lead. Manchester’s Nick Stampley hit a triple to end the scoring in the third quarter but three-pointers from Ward-Hibbert and Will Neighbour moved the hosts 11 points clear with nine minutes left.
The Giants recorded a 9-2 run of their own, with the impactful Stampley and Nick Lewis continuing to battle hard to set up what looked like a possible grandstand finish with just under five minutes left. When McGill fired home a triple just seconds later, though, it seemed to topple the Giants, who never threatened to mount another real comeback.
Scores from Defoe and Ward-Hibbert cancelled out the increasingly desperate Mancunians’ efforts and there was one final moment of magic. McGill floated a pass up over the rim, which Green slammed down for the alley-oop. The ex-Giants star, who finished with 15 points, roared when he hit the ground, the exclamation point added at the end of an excellent second-half performance.
Newcastle, who remain seventh, will now look to complete a hat-trick of wins for the week as they face the league’s bottom club Plymouth City Patriots on the south coast in a 3pm tip-off tomorrow.