Newcastle Eagles lifted the British Basketball League Trophy by beating National Basketball League side Solent Kestrels 96-94 after overtime in an instant classic in Glasgow on Sunday.
It’s a seventh Trophy success for the Eagles, who end the fairytale run by the Kestrels in a final that gripped everyone to the very end.
For the Kestrels, who had surprised so many by becoming the first non-BBL team to reach a BBL final, they will be heartbroken that they narrowly missed out on doing what many thought was unthinkable, but in competing with the most successful team in the country, will have gained many admirers as well as the respect of the basketball community.
For the Eagles, their spirit was on full display. After losing imports Mike Morsell, Nick Schlitzer and Sade Aded Hussein, on the eve of the game due to the coronavirus pandemic, they plugged away and showed incredible resilence.
At 35-years-old, Darius Defoe was nothing short of spectacular, getting 23 points and 11 rebounds to support Rahmon Fletcher, who poured in a game-high 29. CJ Getty’s 21 points and 17 rebounds though gave him the MVP crown.
Elliot Sentance led Solent with 26 points.
After an even first half, Fletcher was at the heart of the major charge by the Eagles in the third quarter as they took their first first double-digit lead of the game and led 77-65 heading into the final period.
Solent, having eased to the NBL Division 1 title with an unbeaten 22-0 record this season, winning all but two games by double figures were in unfamiliar territory. It was they who were trailing by 12 heading to the final period.
Matt Guymon’s side responded fantastically, a 10-0 run, followed by an 8-0 burst gave them hope and sure enough, a lay-up from Brendan Okoronkwo handed them an 85-84 lead with 2:03 left.
Newcastle would gain the advantage once again, only for Solent’s TrayVonn Wright to level the game at 87-87 with 4.5 seconds left and force overtime.
The two teams rallied, trading leads with each other, but Eagles came up on top, as Wright’s mid-range jumper fell short.
BASKETBALL WON THIS DAY – NOT THE CORONAVIRUS
This year’s British Basketball League Trophy final was your typical ‘David vs. Goliath’ battle.
The build-up to the second showpiece game of the BBL season between Newcastle Eagles and National Basketball League side, Solent Kestrels will be remembered as the final that should never have taken place.
That was the view of British basketball fans and even players, who voiced their strong displeasure that Sunday’s BBL Trophy final in Glasgow went ahead with constant worry over the current coronavirus pandemic.
It even showed in the stands, with the Emirates Arena in Glasgow barely half-full, when normally for major finals, it’s packed.
The majority of basketball leagues across the world, including the NBA, NCAA and EuroLeague have been suspended with the UK and Turkey the only two leagues in Europe still pressing on.
Despite the independently owned BBL going ahead, the National Basketball League, the country’s second tier, run by Basketball England, have suspended all basketball activity for two weeks.
On the eve of Sunday’s game, three Newcastle Eagles imports: Mike Morsell, Nick Schlitzer and Sade Aded Hussein were released after voicing concerns relating to the latest developments surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and announcements made by the U.S. government.
It has been reported that imports from another three BBL teams have also left.
However, the league has said in numerous statements leading up to Sunday’s final that they have followed guidance from the government and chief medical and science advisers and have been correct in doing so.
But it hasn’t stopped fans from dominating the BBL’s social media feeds to air out their disapproval of the game going ahead.
Players across the league privately voiced their disapproval of the BBL’s decision to carry on with the games, despite the league reportedly being in contact with the clubs.
One player, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “The league is in a tough spot, but I worry that as soon as the [BBL] Trophy final is over, they will postpone the league after that.
“If they do, even if the government advice hasn’t changed, then it looks as though that they have cared more about losing TV money then our health and wellbeing, which is wrong.”
Friday and Saturday’s games in the BBL went ahead, however, the two games scheduled in the Women’s British Basketball League on Saturday were postponed.
“The advice quite clearly from the government at the present time is to continue until we hear otherwise,“ BBL chairman Sir Rodney Walker said to BBC Sport during the Trophy final.
“Everyone knew what the announcement was during the week. We don’t have a single player within the BBL who has been tested at all let alone tested positive.”
Sir Rodney Walker continued: “If the advice this week would have been to stop, then we would have stopped, regardless of the financial consequences.
“There’s no doubt that next week there will be new advice coming out and we will respond and take appropriate action at that stage.”
No doubt though, that the two games on show today made everyone momentarily forget about the ongoing health issues that we, as a nation all face.