Newcastle Eagles survived a tense two-leg victory to advance at the expense of the Guildford Heat in the first round of the British Basketball League playoffs.
After a hard-fought 104-97 victory at Sport Central, Newcastle were on the ropes 24 hours later in the return fixture. But left the Surrey Sports Park in the end with a place the playoff semis. Winning 88-83 on the night, and 192-180 on aggregate.
“It was a well fought basketball game, credit to the (Guildford) Heat,” Newcastle player-coach Fabulous Flournoy commented after the game.
One of the things that played an effect overall was the points difference because it effected everybody’s judgement, you know with looking at the clock, I know it did for them (Guildford) and it did for us, that’s what mainly effected the basketball game and in the second half, the momentum swinged a little in our favour and we hung on in there,” Flournoy continued.
Led by Ralph Hegmin and Martelle McLemore, the Heat began the first quarter much the better of the two sides, racing to an early 10-2 lead. Eagles’ advantage in the first leg completely vanished within two minutes of playing time.
Charles Smith though restored order and an Andrew Lasker 3-point play cut the Heat’s lead to 12-7, which gave the Eagles a lead of two on aggregate. Reggie Jackson terrorised the hosts, slashing to the hoop and scoring. Guildford rallied though through Julius Joseph to lead by seven on the night (24-17) and tie the series overall.
An 8-0 run by the Eagles to begin second quarter proceedings gave them a eight point advantage overall, which was answered in style by the hosts, as two put-back dunks by Tayo Ogedengbe gave the Heat a 44-31 lead, and they maintained that lead at the half (48-40) a lead of one on aggregate.
Buckets were traded in a scrappy third period with Guildford leading by 12 on the night thanks to Carlos Medlock and Ralph Hegamin, but were dealt a huge blow when captain Mike Martin limped off and would take no further part in the contest.
Heat’s loss was undoubtedly Eagles gain.
As they have done for most of the season, the Eagles stormed back into the contest, much to the delight of their small but vocal travelling support. Lasker the catalyst of another 8-0 run, and the former Plymouth Raiders hotshot capped it with a buzzer-beating triple, which gave the Eagles a precious one-point lead on aggregate heading to the last ten minutes of regulation. Guildford still leading 64-59 on the night.
Guildford’s legs were weary. Shot selection was lazy and passes were not finding their intended targets, Newcastle found a higher gear.
Lasker and the impressive Reggie Jackson ended all hope of a Heat revival – scoring frequently, and there was nothing Guildford could do. Eagles were starting to run in transition and Guildford’s season was slipping away.
A technical on Heat coach Creon Raftopoulos summed up a woeful final quarter. Kadiri Richard’s emphatic jam made sure that Newcastle’s season continued and Guildford’s rollercoaster season ended.
“We were desperate for a third scorer tonight,” explained Andrew Lasker afterwards. As he, along with Reggie Jackson led the Eagles with 24 points on the night.
“If we (Newcastle) are going to be successful in the playoffs, we can’t depend on Reggie (Jackson) and Chuck (Charles Smith) putting up 30 every night, so with that and our defensive improvement tonight too, I think our chances look good,” Lasker continued.
Elsewhere, Cheshire Jets bested the Plymouth Raiders over two-legs, winning the crucial second leg in Chester 83-70, an aggregate score of 177-164.
After the first leg ended all square at 94-all, with the Jets blowing a 16-point cushion. The Cheshire outfit found a way to beat their south-west rivals, as the Raiders shot selection let them down. Quemont Greer leading the Jets with 21 points. Jeremy Bell chipping in with 19 points, adding to the 36 he got in the first leg.
Mersey Tigers hold a three-point lead heading into their second leg with Leicester Riders, winning in Leicester 86-83 last night, while Glasgow Rocks hold a comfortable 83-67 lead over the Sheffield Sharks with the second leg due to be played in Glasgow on Monday night. Updates on those games to follow.
John Hobbs for TalkBasket.net