|Sheffield Sharks||25||27||27||23||102 (191)||Win|
In years to come the 2018-19 season will go down as a game changer in the history of British basketball’s most successful club.
But this morning there is very little positive to be said about Newcastle Eagles’ worst campaign for 15 years.
A mid-term move to the magnificent Eagles Community Arena will undoubtedly lay the foundation for multiple tilts at title success.
And finally taking ownership of a permanent home is the biggest positive to be taken from a transitional year for Newcastle.
Off the court, then, the future is set fair.
But on it, 12 regular season defeats, coupled with early exits from all three knockout competitions, tell a story of inconsistency and indecision.
And Sheffield Sharks took full advantage of both to end the Eagles’ playoff hopes at the quarter-final stage for the third time in four seasons.
Even within this brutally unforgiving fixture there were flashes of the wonderful highs and excruciating lows that have punctuated an unpredictable campaign.
But in the final analysis a franchise with nine playoff final appearances to its name had neither the collective nous nor the necessary drive down the stretch to see off a Sheffield side that added this prized playoff scalp to a clean sweep of league wins.
Newcastle brought home a precious five-point lead to Tyneside following the previous night’s 94-89 win in South Yorkshire.
But after last season’s quarter-final second-leg capitulation – when underdogs Bristol Flyers overturned an 11-point deficit to win by six – Eagles’ supporters knew precious probably wasn’t enough. And they were right.
Home fans were fearing the worst within the first 90 seconds as Atiba Lyons’ men hit back-to-back triples to throw this battle of the northern heavyweights wide open from the tip.
And in truth, nobody in black and white could have expected anything less than a lightning start from the determined visitors.
But this humdinger of a quarter-final tie was always destined to go the distance with two sides now trading on former glories desperate to get back among the BBL’s big boys.
And it was Sheffield who took a two-point aggregate lead into the second period with the Eagles struggling for rhythm…and frustrated by the foul count.
Both teams anticipated a bruising battle in the paint but Newcastle picked up a staggering seven first period fouls – a statistic that in no way reflected a relatively tame opening quarter.
Within 20 seconds of the restart Darius Defoe was floored by Robert Marsden but no action was taken against the Sharks’ centre. And with the officials no closer to getting a grip on an increasingly fraught fixture there was a real danger this tense tie could descend into an ugly free-for-all.
That worst-case scenario arrived three minutes after half-time. The Eagles were trailing by 15 when fit-again Jeremy Smith drove to the basket – the US guard was fouled before a subsequent unsportsmanlike offence by Marsden sent the Newcastle star sprawling.
Victor Moses was incensed, Kai Williams picked up a technical foul and the referees were simply relieved to restart a match as scrappy as it was absorbing.
But the Sharks and their fans were loving every minute. And by turning the tie ugly the visitors had successfully turned the tide. Sheffield led by 20 on the night – and 15 on aggregate – with 15 minutes remaining as the Eagles’ hopes of extending their season hung by a thread.
Kyle Williams responded to a trademark on-court dressing down from an irate Fabulous Flournoy by racing coast to coast and finishing with an impressive spin move under the basket. But Newcastle still trailed by an aggregate 12 points heading into the fourth period as the dangerous Dirk Williams arrowed home a pinpoint three on the buzzer.
What followed was Newcastle’s final, desperate bid to keep their season alive. It went down to the wire – of course it did – before the Eagles went down.