Marc Steutel has described Newcastle’s Friday night showdown with Sheffield Sharks as a ‘must-win’ game as the Eagles bid to crash the playoff party.
Great Britain’s acting head coach insists his reshaped roster can handle the pressure after a productive spell on the practice court.
And Steutel is refusing to downplay the significance of a bottom three clash against the club currently occupying the BBL Championship’s final playoff place.
Newcastle’s playcaller admits his evolving team owes it to the Eagles’ fanatical support to come up with a winning performance at the set to sell-out Vertu Motors Arena.
“Friday is a must-win game and I’m not looking at it in any other way,” said Steutel.
“That’s a term we’ve used within the group this week and we’re telling it like it is.
“People will probably speculate about whether that honesty puts the pressure on and perhaps it does.
“But everyone can see the league table right now and it’s the reality of the situation we find ourselves in.”
Sheffield sits six points ahead of Newcastle in eighth spot but both sides have slipped to 13 league losses this season.
And it’s now or never for the Eagles in the race to stamp their post-season ticket as Steutel’s men bid to feed off their raucous fans and reel in Atiba Lyons’ Sharks.
“As a club we’re very proud of the environment we’ve created at the Vertu Motors Arena and our supporters are a big part of that,” he added.
“We want to reward them with the win that all of us want to see.
“We faced the same situation a couple of weeks ago when we targeted the homecourt clash against the Giants as a game we could win.
“We knew it would be tough going down to Bristol two days later and we were hugely frustrated after the Manchester loss.
“It’s another challenging double-header this weekend and we have to get that win on Friday to set us up for Sunday.”
Steutel has been able to work with a fully fit roster for the last 10 days and feels forward Justin Gordon is finding his feet again following a whirlwind return to Tyneside.
“We’ve had a solid stretch together as a group but after the Bristol we probably wanted — and needed — another game,” he added.
“The positive is that Justin’s far more acclimatised coming into this weekend.
“One of the things I’m challenging the players to do is to reproduce what we’re doing day-to-day in a competitive environment.
“We’ve practiced positively for five or six weeks now but that hasn’t always translated into game-night performances.
“We have to make that transition when we face Sheffield.”
The Sharks — like Newcastle — had hoped to be challenging for the top six but coach Lyons has faced a frustrating first half of the campaign.
Both teams look very different heading into the final three months of the regular season but Steutel expects to face a Sheffield roster sticking to a tried and tested formula.
“They’re not in the situation that they thought they’d be in heading into February,” added Steutel.
“But they’ve added two high calibre players — an energetic guard and a shooting big — in the last few weeks and we’ve had a chance to look at how those guys fit in.
“Regardless of the challenges they’ve faced, the Sharks remain a well-coached team based on basketball fundamentals and they’re a defensive minded group that’s hard to break down.
“Sheffield tries to frustrate teams but we have to be able to break them down.”
Newcastle return to action without experienced forward Donovan Johnson after the club parted company with the US star who has signed a new deal in Greece.