Night to christen stadium
basketball expert to know a tight game was brewing. It was, though, a crowd of Eagles and British Basketball League fans.
They cheered in all the right places, and the volume cranked up as the game went on. Each roar, groan, ooh and aah reflected the number of points the Eagles landed or missed, the skill level and balance of the game.
The surroundings added to the drama, the backboard lighting up like a Christmas tree when Rahmon Fletcher found the net from the opening quarter’s final play.
When the referee blew his whistle with less than five minutes remaining to consult the technical bench, it was like the volume was switched off while supporters awaited the verdict.
The scourge of the modern sports event was still there when the second half began with most of the posh seats empty, but in fairness there was no indication to those around the hospitality tables that the game had restarted.
The closing stages became increasingly fraught after Kyle Williams brilliantly closed Newcastle’s deficit to 71-72.
Stalking the sideline, injured 45-year-old player-coach Flournoy went apoplectic when Williams paused to look for support, urging him down the line, from where he won two free throws. He hit the rim, then landed the second.
Williams levelled at 78-78 with 2.35 minutes to play.
The furious waving and whistling to put Nicholas Donte off his free throw and the cheer when he missed were anything but Corinthian, but showed the passion the Arena could generate. He sunk his next attempt, and the lead was never again surrendered.
Donte picking up six late free throws as the Eagles got increasingly desperate. By the end, Flournoy was wandering up and down the line, arms disconsolately folded.
Once it was over, the dismantling began, converting to community mode for 600 or so more Arena debuts in Saturday’s junior league matches. It had been a proper night’s basketball at a proper basketball arena.
■ Rahmon Fletcher Eagles v Raiders