Smith plays the star­ring role to si­lence Wolves


The Chronicle - - Sport - By SIMON RUSHWORTH Ea­gles’ Vic­tor Moses in ac­tion

IT TAKES a brave man to wear a New­cas­tle Ea­gles vest with Smith plas­tered across the back.

A name syn­ony­mous with the club’s golden decade of un­prece­dented suc­cess, it re­calls heady days and heroic dis­plays.

There are those who be­lieve Charles Smith is the most nat­u­rally tal­ented bas­ket­ball player ever to have donned the New­cas­tle shirt and a dec­o­rated 13-sea­son ca­reer – punc­tu­ated by 16 pieces of ma­jor sil­ver­ware – proves as much. No won­der name­sake Jeremy has it all to do.

But on a night when the Ea­gles needed him most, Smith Mk II de­liv­ered a strik­ing im­pres­sion of his much-missed pre­de­ces­sor.

A vir­tu­oso sec­ond-half per­for­mance kept Worces­ter’s Wolves at bay and only Vic­tor Moses bet­tered an im­pres­sive 27-point haul.

Smith is only weeks into his New­cas­tle ca­reer and yet here was the first, com­pelling ev­i­dence that a fa­mous name can live on.

On the back of two dam­ag­ing de­feats, keep­ing the Wolves from the door could have been con­sid­ered a tough ask for the Ea­gles. But this Worces­ter team, shorn of long-serv­ing play­caller Paul James, is a shadow of the side renowned for hit­ting New­cas­tle where it hurts.

Ar­riv­ing on Ty­ne­side nurs­ing a seven-game los­ing streak in the league, Ty Shaw’s team tipped off at Sport Cen­tral rooted to the bot­tom of the BBL Cham­pi­onship ta­ble.

In truth, Fab Flournoy could hardly have asked for an eas­ier op­por­tu­nity to bounce back from last week­end’s losses – on a night when noth­ing less than a con­vinc­ing home win would suf­fice, the wob­bling Wolves were wel­come vis­i­tors.

As the hosts surged into an early dou­ble-digit lead, paced by Moses in the paint, it looked as if nor­mal ser­vice had been re­sumed.

Fluid pass­ing and cool fin­ish­ing was killing a Wolves start­ing five stripped of con­fi­dence, but even in full con­trol the Ea­gles never looked en­tirely con­vinc­ing at the de­fen­sive end.

And when Worces­ter’s De­shawn Free­man came off the bench to make his long awaited BBL de­but it was clear the Amer­i­can rookie had spot­ted space to ex­ploit.

Nine points in five min­utes from the for­mer NCAA Divi­sion One for­ward helped trim the deficit to six and New­cas­tle sud­denly looked anx­ious. Flournoy’s men had no an­swer to the free-scor­ing Free­man as Wolves’ ex­cit­ing new re­cruit proved frus­trat­ingly elu­sive and dan­ger­ously ac­cu­rate.

Only a lack of match fit­ness pre­vented the vis­i­tors’ star man from pil­ing on the mis­ery through­out a tense and keenly fought sec­ond quar­ter.

As Worces­ter closed to within two points the in­creas­ingly fran­tic Ea­gles bench called a much-needed time­out – cue heated de­bate and con­fused ex­pres­sions as the er­ratic hosts sought an­swers to their slump.

When Free­man slammed down a mighty one-handed dunk with less than a minute of the half left – tak­ing his tally to 14 points – the alarm bells were ring­ing loud and clear.

New­cas­tle were for­tu­nate to take a six-point lead into the half and Flournoy re­sponded by keep­ing his team in the locker room un­til sec­onds be­fore the restart.

Any hopes of an in­stant re­sponse were quashed as Darell Combs sank an arc­ing three-pointer to fire his side 63-61 ahead.

Wolves’ first lead of the night was fully de­served and their grow­ing threat in­creas­ingly real.

En­ter Smith the saviour. Two treys in the clos­ing stages of a fraught third quar­ter re­stored the home team’s ad­van­tage and the slow­burn­ing Amer­i­can sud­denly looked the player most likely to spark a late Ea­gles’ surge.

The 6ft 3in guard drove to the bas­ket to score New­cas­tle’s first points of the fi­nal pe­riod but it was the Wolves’ men­ace Free­man who pro­vided Flournoy’s men with an un­likely boost.

With less than seven min­utes to play Worces­ter’s main man sud­denly lost his cool – a heated clash with of­fi­cials lead­ing to a shock ejec­tion for the MVP con­tender.

Shaw was fu­ri­ous and his Wolves weren’t fin­ished. Even with­out their tal­is­manic rookie the vis­i­tors re­fused to be tamed, but this was Smith’s night.

Rah­mon Fletcher keeps the Wolves at bay last night

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