The Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles tipped off their 2024 British Basketball League Trophy campaign down in The Copper Box against the formidable London Lions. The end analysis will show a 22-point defeat which looks comfortable for London.
But until the final quarter it was anything but as a seriously short-handed Eagles side gave a committed, determined and brave performance throughout the 40 minutes but just ran out of legs down the stretch.
London showed their strength and depth as they too were without some important players. However, they did have enough to cover their absences whilst Newcastle simply didn’t have the depth to take their much-lauded opponent deeper into the game.
The Eagles already without long-term injured players Scott Spencer and Will Neighbour also travelled to the Capital without starting guard Devin Whitfield who is nursing a hamstring injury.
But the further blow of losing influential bench forward Josh Ward-Hibbert who did travel but was unable to suit up was in the end the biggest blow as it left Newcastle with a three-man bench.
Two of those being Academy graduates Sauver Kande and Sam Mamuini who both played more minutes in this game than they had all season. It was a telling fact as were the statistics of the game which can often be misleading. This time they weren’t.
London by the end of the 40-minutes dominated in every category. Their overall shooting percentage being 60 to Eagles 36 including 61% from 2-point range to Newcastle’s 38% and a 3-point differential of 55% to 30%.
Even from the charity stripe they were better as one of The Eagles season’s nemesis struck again. London shot an average 70% from the free-throw line but Newcastle were down at 56%.
Then you add in the rebounding stats, London taking that category 47 – 35 and had 34 assists to Eagles 14 with their bench contributing a third of their points with 33 to Newcastle’s 3. Numbers that show exactly how hard the absentees hit Newcastle.
And yet for all of that with 2:10 to go in the third quarter The Eagles only trailed by a single point at 65 to 64. London though closed that period with the final six points giving them a seven-point cushion to take into the final quarter.
Then with Head Coach Marc Steutel trying to juggle his limited resources which were further hampered by foul trouble, the home side made their big push and Newcastle’s tank was empty in response.
A huge final ten-minute spell for London gave them a win they undoubtedly deserved but perhaps the final score line was a little too harsh on an Eagles side that gave them a much tougher contest than that score dictated.
Indeed in the first half inspired by Larry Austin Jr who received great support from Tahj Green and Jordan Johnson in particular, Newcastle not only kept pace they actually led at the half by 48 points to 45.
In the second half Lions managed to put the shackles on The Eagles and restricted them to just 29 points in the final twenty minutes, 16 of which came from Rickey McGill who was the one player in that period that was able to find the basket for Newcastle.
For Newcastle Green led their scoring with 19 points but perhaps the most impressive performance came from Larry Austin Jr with 18 points and 13 rebounds for a huge double-double.
Rickey McGill also had 18 points and added in 5 rebounds and 5 assists whilst Jordan Johnson finished with 15 points and 6 assists. But that in essence was it with Darius Defoe’s minutes affected by foul trouble he was only able to contribute 4 points.
So, not the start The Eagles would have wanted as The Trophy Group commenced and they have little or no time to lick their wounds as they’re back in action at home on Friday against Manchester Giants in the Vertu Motors Arena. Book your seat now on the box office.
The top two from each group will qualify for a Final Fours weekend at Birmingham at the end of the month so Newcastle can ill afford to lose to The Giants if they hope to qualify. Particularly with a daunting trip to Bristol to come and a tough home game against Leicester to round off their group games.
It may be a late roll-call as well for Marc Steutel as he looks to see if either Devin Whitfield and/or Josh Ward-Hibbert can return to bolster his ranks amid hopes that the extra minutes all had to play in this loss will also not weaken his options further.