There will be no consolation for Head Coach Marc Steutel that his team took part in a thrilling high-scoring game of basketball in Manchester last night after they came up just short of making it three wins in a row.
Having seen off Surrey and Caledonia in their last two games this New Years Day match-up was the one that Steutel and his charges really wanted. Their rivals, the Giants, are the team immediately above them in the play-off picture.
A win would have levelled the series between the two sides in the league and also moved the Eagles that bit closer to a team they need to catch. But, in the end despite another mesmeric performance from Javion Hamlet they came up short.
Eagles problem is they keep losing defensive assignments at vital times. When the likes of Darius Defoe, Hasahn French and even Hamlet are on court they look fairly solid defensively. Without the two forwards in particular they struggle to contain sides when they need too.
Justin Everett is a player that looked very promising when he came in but he seems to have lost his way and lost the confidence of the Newcastle coaching staff. Eagles were without Kyle Johnson for this game but Manchester were without the prolifically talented William Lee so that evened things out.
Then there was the Rahmon Fletcher conundrum. Eagles did a brilliant job on their former star point guard in the first half but Fletcher came to play in the second when the chips were down and in the end made a huge difference in the game.
David Cohn had been huge for the visitor’s in the first half leading all scorers with 18 points and dictating play. Giants though closed him down completely in the second twenty minutes and that defensive effort on the Eagles play-maker counted big.
What was also big was the contribution of the home side’s Nicholas Lewis. He came into the game averaging less than 7 points a game and left it as Manchester’s high-scorer with 20 including a huge 12-point contribution in the Giants excellent second quarter effort.
Giants had jumped out early in the game. A 16 – 6 run topped and tailed by Dirk Williams triples had caused Steutel to call the game’s first time-out. His side responded magnificently as Defoe came into the game.
An astonishing 21 – 4 point reply from the tactical discussion meant the Eagles turned the game around to lead 32 – 24 after the first ten minutes. It got better for Newcastle as they increased that lead to 14 at one stage before Lewis got going and inspired his teammates.
Gradually Giants turned the screw and by half-time Fletcher’s last bucket of the half meant the home side went to the locker room up by a point at 56 – 55.
Eagles opened the second half with a 7 – 1 to take a five-point advantage but that was when Fletcher put on the after burners and brought the likes of Taj Green and Dirk Williams into the game with him. By the end of the third they gave themselves a nine-point cushion to take into the final stanza.
Hamlet kept Eagles in it and Jermel Kennedy joined the party. But, every time Newcastle got close it seemed Fletcher would drop in a basket or dish out an assist as his side managed to keep Eagles, just, at bay and take what could be a crucial win when the end of season assessments are made.
The Eagles are next in action this Friday night when they host Surrey Scorchers. Tickets are selling fast from the Newcastle Eagles Box Office.