Mersey Tigers beat the Newcastle Eagles 80-75 at Sports Central to claim their first ever BBL Championship, and end Newcastle’s three-year reign on top of the British Basketball League podium.
In an epic encounter in Newcastle, Mersey completed the ‘season sweep’ over the Eagles winning all three out of three matches. The third win being the most precious.
Great Britain international Nate Reinking paced the Tigers with 22 points, supported by Tafari Toney, who hit 20. Reggie Jackson and Charles Smith led all scorers for the Eagles with 24 points apiece. But, unfortunately to no avail.
Both teams began ice-cold from the field, mainly due to the start being delayed for nearly 25-minutes, due to faults with the scoreboard. But once in a groove, Nate Reinking hit nine first quarter points, to give Mersey a 17-10 lead mid-way through.
Recently named BBL Player of the Month winner Reggie Jackson wasn’t to be outdone though, as he scored frequently to tie the game at 19, before a James Jones triple on the buzzer silenced the Newcastle faithful, and put the Tigers up 22-19, heading into the second period.
Both sides traded leads to begin the second ten minutes. Kadiri Richard tied the contest at 26 for the hosts, which in-turn started a 14-4 run by the visitors, led by Andrew Thomson and Tafari Toney. The duo punished Eagles’ weakened inside presence as Darius Defoe hit foul trouble, and as a result, the Tigers enjoyed a double-digit lead (40-30) mid-way through the second.
Newcastle were not going to lie down and give their title up without a fight though.
A Charles Smith-inspired 10-0 run tied the game at 40. Andrew Sullivan restored the Tigers advantage, braking the Eagles’ run, which was once again answered by Smith, as the veteran hit two free-throws to tie the game at 42 going into the half time break.
Fabulous Flournoy’s team-talk did wonders to start the third period, as Newcastle started playing free-flowing basketball. While Mersey chucked-up tired and hopeless jump-shots, as coach Tony Garbelotto’s side looked dead-on-their-feet. Reinking and Jones though found enough strength to pull Tigers back into the contest, as Reinking hit a triple and Jones hit a two-pointer to reduce Newcastle deficit to just four points (58-54) going into the final ten minutes.
Both teams were literally neck-and-neck in the fourth, as buckets were traded, leads were exchanged and legs were getting heavy. Smith, who had played like his life depended on it all evening, buried a triple to give the Eagles a 70-69 lead, which was matched by Reinking for the Tigers.
Eagles got desperate, as Tigers saw an opportunity. They had enough in the tank to sink the remaining free-throws, as the Tigers players on the bench started the celebrations. They knew it, the crowd, that packed Sports Central knew it. The title was switching hands for the first time in three years.
Newcastle’s reign is over. Liverpool’s finest, has now become Britain’s finest.
John Hobbs for TalkBasket.net