There is one simple question. After another double-losing weekend, is Newcastle Eagles BBL play-off hopes finally over? Yesterday’s loss on the road at Leicester may well have put the final nail in Newcastle’s coffin.
Statistically and mathematically it still is not confirmed but with only four games left to play and now three games behind the Plymouth City Patriots who occupy the final play-off berth in eighth position it looks highly unlikely for Head Coach Marc Steutel’s men.
The Eagles of course won’t give up and will continue to fight right to the end of the season but a tough road loss in their latest must-win game certainly looks to have sealed their fate.
Once again it was a game where Newcastle snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Both teams had tough losses on the Friday night to bounce back from. The Eagles at home to Sheffield and Leicester on the road at regular season Champions London.
In the early going it appeared that Riders defeat had taken more out of them than Newcastle’s as the Eagles made a great start to the game scoring the first five points of the contest.
Then with David Cohn and Justin Gordon looking in the mood they played some tight defence and good transition offence to be the more dominant force in the first period. Javion Hamlet came off the bench looking back to his best following his injury.
It all added up to an excellent first ten minutes for the visitors who led 23 – 11 going into the second period. Initially, it got better for Newcastle with two Darius Defoe free-throws stretching the lead to 14.
Leicester and Zach Jackson in particular tried to hit back. Jackson looking in imperious form as he with the help of smart point guard play from Carrington Love tried to fashion a home comeback.
But Newcastle managed to keep the Riders at arm’s length and two more Defoe free-throws has them up once again by 14 at 42 – 28. Hamlet had a chance to actually increase that gap as the clock ticked down.
However, he missed and Jackson nailed a triple on the first-half buzzer and the sides hit the locker rooms with Newcastle still holding a double-digit advantage at 49 – 39.
Whatever Coach Rob Paternostro said to his team in the privacy of their locker room it certainly worked. After missing shots and defensive assignments the home side completely turned the game around.
An astonishing 15 – 2 start to the third period stunned Steutel and his team as Riders galloped into the lead and the Eagles coach called a time-out which was very much needed.
It stemmed the flow temporarily and the sides traded baskets until Hamlet once again showed his worth to Newcastle by netting the last four points of the third quarter to at least send his side into the final ten minutes up by a point at 61 – 60.
The early going of the final stanza was tight until with the score at 66 – 66 Leicester made the decisive move. Eight unanswered points gave them a gap that looked comfortable.
Cohn and Hamlet in particular had other ideas and brought Newcastle back to within two points. But Leicester had the momentum and with a shade over three minutes remaining ripped off a 10 – 0 burst run deep into the final minute and it was game over.
A defiant couple of triples from Cohn reduced the deficit but it was too little too late as Jackson closed out the game from the charity stripe to send his side to second in the BBL table and condemned Newcastle to a defeat that all but extinguishes their hopes.
LEICESTER : Zach Jackson 29, Kimbal Mackenzie 12, Carrington Love 9
NEWCASTLE : Javion Hamlet 23, David Cohn 20, Hasahn French 10, Darius Defoe 10