Newcastle Eagles produced a wonderful second half display yesterday at the Vertu Motors Arena to take a crucial home victory over Essex Rebels. The win gives them real momentum as they push towards the end of season and clinching a play-off place.
The margin of victory was also important as the Eagles lost earlier in the season down at Essex by eight points. The 69 – 56 margin in favour of Newcastle means that they claim the head-to-head on points aggregate over the Rebels which could be decisive in the final reckonings.
Eagles Head Coach Chris Bunten had talked before the game about feeling his side need three more wins to clinch their play-off place. If that’s correct then they now need two. However, the manner and style of this performance could well see his side win a few more before they are done.
Bunten had also talked about the reliance Essex had on their starting five and singled out American DeAngelique Waithe as one of the keys to the game. The powerful forward came into the game averaging 16 points and 16 rebounds a game but is known to blow hot and cold.
Thankfully for Newcastle she was not just cold but stone cold. However, a lot of the credit for that must go to Newcastle’s superb defence particularly in the second half. They completely snuffed out the Rebels and Waithe in the second twenty minutes as they flew to a fine victory.
Once again Newcastle were led by their American back court pairing of Maddie Macvicar and Alison Gorrell who both netted 18 points. But crucially the dynamic duo received brilliant support from their colleagues.
Eagles Academy graduate Ori Chukwu-Etu once again showed the improvement she’s made this season in becoming a legitimate WBBL player with a performance that garnered her seven rebounds to go alongside her 12 points. A figure matched by the effervescent Abby Lowe.
Deborah Rodriquez-Perez may have only netted 4 points but her ten rebounds, five assists and defence on Waithe in particular was a hugely valuable contribution. Jorja Smith and Rachael Bland also gave supportive minutes from the bench.
The Eagles jumped out early against an Essex side that seemed all at sea early on. But following a well-taken time-out by the visitors they produced an eleven-point burst that took them into the lead at 19 – 14 at the end of the first.
The second period was the tightest of the contest and saw the home side claw back two points to go into the locker rooms down by three at 36 – 33. Whatever was in the Eagles’ half-time drinks certainly gave them a massive boost in the third period, especially on defence.
The completely manacled Rebels only allowing them eight points and turned that three-point deficit into a six-point advantage as the teams prepared for the final quarter. But there was even better to come from Bunten’s side.
Essex were sitting fourth in the table before the game and were not going to give the Eagles an easy win. With 3:44 to go they had cut the gap to a single point at 57 – 56 when Newcastle completely cut loose.
A superb 12-point unanswered burst was the catalyst for Newcastle to finish the game in dominant and fantastic style as they came away with a victory they thoroughly deserved. A victory that now makes their play-off push more of a probability than a possibility.