|Esh Group Eagles Newcastle||19||20||24||20||83||Loss|
It was a brief snapshot in time that might have gone unnoticed by the majority of those inside Sport Central had the venue’s observant match-night announcer not celebrated a truly historic feat.
In the context of British basketball’s most successful franchise, the work of the club’s proud player-coach and the development of homegrown talent it was the most significant of moments.
And on a night when little else went right for a club in crisis, it provided the increasingly restless home faithful with at least one positive to take away from another truly forgettable display.
With just 16 seconds on the clock Darius Defoe took his personal tally of BBL points to 5,000. Like so many of his baskets, a perfunctory lay-up against the Cheshire Phoenix was the very antithesis of flashy. But from day one Defoe has always been about getting the job done. And, more often than not, he does it so well.
Only Charles Smith has scored more championship points in an Eagles vest and it is unlikely many more players will gain membership to an exclusive club. Defoe joined Newcastle as a teenager in 2004 and played 40 league games in his first season – the 2016/17 campaign was the first where injury restricted the forward to fewer than 30 championship fixtures.
The 33-year-old is synonymous with the Eagles’ unprecedented success during the last decade and is a credit to Fabulous Flournoy. In the absence of a truly motivating local success story, a source of continued frustration for all involved with an organisation at the heart of the community, the adopted Geordie is the next best thing.
But Defoe, like his team-mates, is struggling right now. And just as he found it tough going in the paint against London Lions the previous week, the product of Hackney College couldn’t buy a basket in the opening quarter. Cheshire piled on the pressure. And as is their wont of late, an unconvincing Newcastle wilted.
Trailing 26-19 at the end of the first quarter the Eagles were already facing up to the prospect of a third successive homecourt loss. Cheshire became the first of six sides to breach fortress Sport Central this season with a nailbiting 80-79 BBL Cup victory and from tip to buzzer the Phoenix looked quite capable of repeating the trick.
With forward Malcolm Riley a constant threat in the paint and former Newcastle favourite Orlan Jackman finding his range from outside, it was no surprise to see the visitors take a six-point lead into the half.
All of a sudden Defoe’s barrier-breaking two seemed like a distant memory and what should have been a night of pure celebration for the long serving veteran was anything but.
In the absence of the injured Terry Martin there is no doubt Newcastle’s inside options – at both ends of the court – are limited. Defoe, by default, is shouldering a greater responsibility as the biggest body on the Eagles roster and for the second successive home game that added burden appeared to drain the normally dependable forward.
Kai Williams, who would eventually foul out, had kept the hosts in touch with some pinpoint outside shooting but it quickly became obvious that Newcastle’s hopes of avoiding a third successive homecourt loss rested in the capable hands of rookie guard Saah Nimley. Back-to-back third quarter threes from the lively American kept Cheshire keen but the Phoenix were full value for their 72-63 lead heading into the final period.
With Defoe now nursing a painful injury – and publicly expressing his ire at a below-par display – it was quite clear there would be no post-5,000 point party on Tyneside. Rather, a two-week period of potentially painful self-reflection ahead of the team’s return to action on February 23.