A jaw-dropping Jordan Johnson display helped the surging Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles see off the valiant Plymouth City Patriots and extend their winning streak.
Last night’s victory was the men in black’s fourth in a row and means they could climb back into the top half if they can overcome rivals Caledonia Gladiators in Scotland tonight.
Marc Steutel’s men fell just short of the century and were not always at their best but still gave the Vertu Motors Arena faithful plenty to cheer.
Human highlight reel Johnson sliced up the visiting defence on his way to a 24-point, 13-assist double-double littered with incredible plays, while four other Eagles ended in double figures.
Josh Ward-Hibbert was the best of the rest, with the former tennis prodigy’s ace performance saw him narrowly miss out on his own double-double, ending up with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Still without Larry Austin Jr, the Eagles had to deal with a Patriots side eager for revenge after Newcastle’s 95-68 romp on the south coast last Sunday.
Though the men in black had a six-point lead within four minutes, it was clear Plymouth were ready for a fight, racing forward in attack and looking to pressure the home offence.
Newcastle were unable to pull away from the plucky Patriots and the 28-23 scoreline at the end of the quarter reflected the back-and-forth nature of the game.
The second period saw more style from the Eagles but still not the substance required to put Plymouth to the sword.
Playmakers Johnson and Rickey McGill dished out some assists that were pretty as they were incisive, while a scoring burst from Tajh Green was most welcome.
But Paul James’ dogged Plymouth rebounded brilliantly and wing Tyrell Green was very impressive.
The visitors were energetic to the point of being frenetic and lacked efficiency, which proved costly.
Even when the Eagles took their first double-digit lead with 4’30 left in the half, it was clear this was far from the walk in the park many might have expected after Sunday’s saunter.
The half-time buzzer went with Newcastle 50-45 ahead but head coach Steutel’s frustrations with his side’s defence were clear.
Things did not change at the start of the third period as the visitors scored the first six points to quieten the home crowd and take the lead.
And yet that appeared to be when two of the Eagles stars decided to call time on any chance of an upset.
Ward-Hibbert has gone up a gear in recent weeks and last night he showed again why he has had such success with Leicester Riders and London Lions.
After first helping his side go back in front, he then kept quietly and methodically adding points to build momentum and the lead.
Impressive in an understated way, his style of play is a contrast to the fireworks that come with superstar Johnson, who came alive after a quiet first half on the scoring front.
He plundered 11 points in three-and-a-half minutes to give the Eagles a 69-56 lead as the visitors’ resistance buckled.
Ward-Hibbert, Malcolm Delpeche and Scott Spencer more than cancelled out baskets from ex-Eagle Joe Hart, TJ Atwood and Green to ensure the hosts went into the final quarter with a comfortable 78-63 lead.
McGill and Johnson took advantage of short-handed Plymouth’s lack of bodies – the visitors were without four players, including ace Mason Faulkner – and pushed out the lead further.
The Eagles reached their highest lead of the evening, going up 90-70, in a manner that showed just how suave they can be.
Not content with piling on the points himself, Johnson delivered a behind-the-back pass to former Manchester Giant Green, who thundered in and dunked the ball home.
Plymouth shaved a few points off the margin of victory but the contest was long since over while Steutel gave academy graduates Samuel Mamuini and Sauveur Kande some minutes at the end of an engaging contest.
The Eagles will look to make it a high five successive wins in all competitions tonight when they travel to the Playsport Arena for the first time to face Caledonia Gladiators with an 8pm tip-off.
Fans can watch the away action live on the British Basketball League YouTube channel or live at the Vertu Motors Arena on screens in the foyer during and after tonight’s Women’s British Basketball League game.