Newcastle Eagles completed one of the most remarkable comebacks in British Basketball League history to book their place in the 2023 playoffs.
Seemingly down and out for most of the season, Marc Steutel’s do-or-die warriors left it late to join the post-season party.
But a 90-68 win at Plymouth City Patriots saw the UK’s most storied franchise leapfrog their rivals into eighth spot.
And Newcastle’s nerveless victory, hot on the heels of big back-to-back wins against border rivals Caledonia Gladiators, set up a mouthwatering playoff tie against star-studded London Lions.
An apparently serious first half injury to Hasahn French took the shine of a truly inspiring win on the road.
But nothing could detract from a thoroughly professional performance and deserved triumph on a day when the Eagles rolled back the years in fabulous fashion.
A repeat of last season’s final day ‘play-in’ scenario saw ninth-placed Newcastle head to the Pavilions needing a third win in four to keep their campaign alive.
A nine-point victory was the minimum pre-tip target and a Justin Gordon triple midway through the second quarter opened up a 34-24 Eagles lead.
But that potentially pivotal basket followed a huge setback for Steutel’s men with French stretchered off court just moments earlier.
The all-action big man had been influential at both ends of the court prior to a heavy fall under the Newcastle glass.
Replays showed the former American Football prospect landing awkwardly in the paint before his left knee buckled.
And a lengthy stoppage — with members of both medical teams in attendance — led to French being carried from the court.
But any fears that a worrying injury would knock the Eagles’ confidence were immediately quashed as the Tynesiders took their game to another level.
Former Patriot Denzel Ubiaro was pressed into action in French’s absence and the busy guard played a key role in pacing a sensational 13-7 run to the half.
Newcastle led 47-31 after the first 20 minutes — a combination of high-pressure defence and dead-eye offence proving too much for Paul James’ under-pressure side.
The Eagles had forced their nervy hosts into 13 first half turnovers and had successfully overcome the absence of star man Javion Hamlet and French to deliver one of their most assured offensive halves of a troubled BBL season.
The third of three successive triples from an in-form Ben Mockford extended Newcastle’s lead to 57-33 within minutes of the restart.
And buoyed by a barely believable 15-point cushion, the most successful franchise in British basketball history suddenly had one foot firmly planted in the playoffs.
Plymouth hit back to reduce the deficit to 19 points before another brilliant Eagles burst delighted a typically animated Steutel.
And a fluid Newcastle were up 20 points heading into the final period with Kyle Johnson (18), Gordon (14) and Mockford (11) leading the visitors’ charge.
A combined 15 points in 35 minutes off the bench from Ubiario and BBL veteran Darius Defoe had helped lay the foundation for a huge advantage.
And, in truth, neither French nor Hamlet were missed as a short-handed Eagles roster paved the way for a stunning win.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the fact that their own playoff dreams were fading fast, the Pats flew out of the blocks at the start of the fourth quarter.
But Newcastle saw off a desperate late push from the shellshocked hosts to seal their place in the top eight and book a playoff quarter-final clash against champions London Lions.
Tickets for the first leg of the playoff quarter-final at the Vertu Motors Arena are available now via the box office.