The severely depleted Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles produced a magnificent road victory at Bristol on Friday night to give themselves a real chance of qualifying for the semi-finals of the Trophy competition.
Those semi-finals will be held in Birmingham National Indoor Arena on Saturday 27th January with the Final taking place the next day.
The Eagles dramatic last gasp win on Friday eliminated Bristol from the competition and set-up a shoot-out against Leicester Riders at The Vertu Motors Arena next Friday night.
Both sides come into the game with a 2 wins 1 loss record meaning the winners of Friday’s game will advance to the final four weekend.
Once again, like they will also be this coming Friday, Newcastle were without Josh Ward-Hibbert, Will Neighbour, Devin Whitfield and Scott Spencer. Once again though the remaining six senior players got the Tynesiders over the line as they had done a week previously at home against Manchester Giants.
It is testament to the will, determination, togetherness and commitment of a set of players who are really starting to show what they are capable of this season and their efforts could be well rewarded if they are to beat Leicester next Friday.
Leicester are at full-strength, have a deep roster including recent signing power forward Duke Shelton a former fans favourite at Newcastle as well as the prolific new scoring machine Teddy ‘Buckets’ Allen.
But, after last night’s memorable win The Eagles know that have an opportunity to defy the injury odds and smart betting to go forward in the competition with a win next Friday.
The road win against Bristol was one of those games that really could have gone either way as neither side really held sway throughout a pulsating forty minutes. Eagles twice led by eight points both in the first quarter and the third but never by more.
Bristol led early on twice by five points in the first quarter but once Newcastle moved in front they managed to hold off constant efforts from The Flyers to comeback and take control of the game.
Bristol took advantage of a frenzied start, leading 6 – 1 and 8 – 3 in the early stages with the Eagles turning the ball over six times in the opening five minutes.
Despite the turnover troubles, Newcastle stormed into the lead late in the first. Tajh Green hit a three-pointer to go to cut the deficit to one, before Larry Austin Jr. followed up a minute later with a layup on the break.
Newcastle went on a 12-0 run to take control of the matchup. Malcolm Delpeche was the man to make it 12 straight points, driving baseline and throwing it down. The slam put Newcastle up 18-10.
Bristol responded with a 6-2 run of their own to get back into contention cutting the gap to 23-17 by the end of the first period. It was then a tied game early in the second, as Bristol made another strong start to a quarter with a 7 – 1 run to level the game at 24-24.
Rickey McGill then caught fire from deep to reclaim the lead for the Eagles. He drained three straight triples, but Bristol hit back also from distance to keep it close.
It was a breathless second quarter with six lead changes, the teams going bucket for bucket throughout. The biggest lead for either team was just three points.
Both sides were battling intensely, which showed with their play in the period. It was fast-paced and frantic, with neither side able to establish an advantage on the scoreboard although Bristol held a narrow one point lead at the half 45 – 44.
The second half started how the second quarter ended, with both teams turning the ball over but unable to fully capitalise on the other’s mistakes. McGill got his fourth three to go to give Newcastle the lead before Bristol tied the game at 47 from the free-throw line.
The Eagles did find some separation in the third, however with Austin Jr. leading the way with a steal and a lay-up to spark another Newcastle run and Jordan Johnson’s deep three made it 56-50 with 4:57 left in the quarter.
Jordan Johnson heated up during the Eagles’ burst of momentum, driving inside for a tough finish to give Newcastle an eight-point advantage. Bristol tried mount another comeback but the Eagles held firm and were 68 – 62 ahead going into the final period.
But it was quickly down to a one-score game once again in the fourth as the triples kept falling for Bristol. The Flyers although back in the game, couldn’t get past a determined Eagles to take a lead as time ticked down.
Newcastle found offence at the rim at the hands of McGill, Austin Jr. and Delpeche, to stay in front until back-to-back threes eventually did snatch the lead for Bristol at 77-75..
The Eagles came storming back, with Darius hitting from midrange and Johnson hitting another shot from distance they responded with a 7-0 run. Bristol though weren’t going away.
Following a timeout, which stopped Newactsle’s momentum, the Flyers back within a score and then hit a triple to tie the game 82 points all with 2:21 to go. Bristol’s defence locked in, forcing their opponents into three straight 24-second violations down the stretch.
But they, were unable to take advantage not making any shots to give themselves a lead. With 19 seconds left on the clock it was the Eagles that hit the go-ahead shot with Defoe breaking the deadlock.
He found himself open after a scramble from the ball, won by Austin Jr., then pulled up and hit a deuce from midrange. Defoe then almost sealed the win on the defensive end on the following play, but travelled after stealing the ball to give the Flyers a chance to tie or lead.
The final possession reflected the chaos of the game. Bristol inbounded with 6.8 seconds remaining. A missed three resulted in multiple attempted tip-ins before the ball spilled out to the perimeter for one final three-ball attempt for the home side.
But it missed enabling Newcastle to hold on and advance to that winner-takes-all Leicester showdown next Friday which should be enthralling in front of a sell-out Vertu Motors Arena.
For Newcastle once again Larry Austin Jr. showed superb all-round skills to continue his fine form since his return from injury and took the MVP honours with a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds adding in 5 assists and 6 steals.
Rickey McGill was the Eagles top scorer on the night with 24 points also contributing 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Jordan Johnson had 15 points and 8 assists with Tahj Green putting up his own double-double of 11 points and 14 rebounds.
Malcolm Delpeche added 10 points and 8 rebounds from the bench and although Darius Defoe only had 6 points it was his late basket that was the ultimate difference between the sides.
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