Perhaps the worry going into this match for the Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles was their lack of game time balanced against the fresh Essex Rebels who have played all of January.
The Rebels run in the Women’s British Basketball League Trophy had taken them all the way to the final which they lost against the powerhouse London Lions on the Sunday prior to last night’s game.
The Eagles meanwhile had lost in the opening round at home against Nottingham Wildcats meaning they hadn’t contested a ball in anger against an opposition side for four weeks when the ball was thrown up for the tip-off.
However, for long stretches Newcastle battled hard were really committed and had a lot of good moments against an Essex side that has eyes on a top four finish in the League this season. Certainly their roster and backing is one that demands such a position.
For Newcastle this has been a stop-start season with a change to the head coach new players Lauren Saiki and Tierra Hodges coming in at the beginning of December.
It maybe that they have to suffer a few more setbacks before they can progress although there were definite signs in this defeat that there’s plenty of promise and potential in their roster to give hope for an endo season play-off push.
The Rebels may have had a long journey to the North East for Saturday’s contest but they certainly came off their luxury coach running and were swiftly into their stride as they scored the first seven points of the contest.
Not surprisingly Hodges was the player that got the Eagles on the board but thereafter Essex still held sway three times leading by twelve points in the opening period. Down 22 points to 10, Captain Marina Fernandez led Newcastle’s comeback.
Eight points personal and a Chloe Gaynor triple meant an 11 – 3 Eagles burst that brought them right back into the contest and they only trailed 21 points to 25 as the second quarter beckoned.
Essex were the early aggressors in that second period going up by eight until once again Newcastle showed their metal and clawed their way back into the game. On a driving lay-up by on-court general Saiki they actually pulled back within one at 31 – 32.
The Rebels Head Coach Ashley Cookson called a time-out and whatever he said to his charges and whatever he drew up was very effective as his side with Katherine Tudor and Darcy Rees in particular efficiently ran up a 14 points to 6 response from his calls.
It meant The Rebels lead was nine points at 46 to 37 as both sides headed to the locker rooms at the half to talk things over and prepare for the second twenty minutes.
Essex clearly executed their half-time talk the better in the opening stages of the third quarter. Rees who had been pretty unstoppable in the first half was quietened by Gaynor in particular but all around her, her teammates picked up the slack.
Dayzshan Rogan the USA point guard being particularly effective for the visitors who moved smoothly into a 59 – 46 lead until Hodges went to work and almost single handedly dragged The Eagles back as they nailed eight points unanswered to haul the gap back to five points.
Once again though The Rebels rallied and finished the quarter the stronger although overall Newcastle took the ten-minute period by two points meaning it was a seven-point ball game at 62 – 69 going into the final ten minutes.
Essex opened the quarter well and pushed the lead to eleven before four points in row by Abby Lowe got The Eagles back to within seven points with a tick over five and a half minutes remaining.
That’s when The Rebels turned the screw and Newcastle’s lack of match sharpness kicked in. The final five minutes of the game completely belonged to Essex. Ten unanswered points gave them an excellent final flourish and broke the game open.
The score went from 66 – 73 to 66 – 83 and Essex nailed the game and the League points in deserved fashion. Hodges two final free throws merely adding to her overall game-high points total.
Hodges was perhaps the standout player of the game with a big double-double of 23 points and 11 rebounds. Her main support coming from Saiki with 11 points and 5 assists, Fernandez with 11 points and returning from injury Gaynor with 10 points, 4 rebounds and 4 steals.
For Essex Darcy Rees did most of her good work in the first half but was effective in the second finishing with a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds and was excellent inside the paint.
Tudor was her main support with 16 points and 6 rebounds whilst Rogan and Danielle Turner both had 12 points, Rogan adding six rebounds to her points.
So, a defeat and disappointment in the end for The Eagles but at least now they have a game under their belts and are back to competitive action as they contemplate another tough task next weekend when they travel down the M1 to take on the all-conquering London Lions.