Ea­gles edge nail­biter to take lead in cup semis

The Chronicle - - Basketball - BY OS­CAR MAUNG-HALEY

IT was ad­van­tage New­cas­tle Ea­gles in the first leg of the BBL Cup semi­fi­nals af­ter they man­aged to dis­patch BBL lead­ers Lon­don Lions in nerve wrack­ing fash­ion.

Head­ing into the con­test, the hosts had lost their last two on the road – with the Lions them­selves hand­ing player-coach Fab Flournoy’s men a dam­ag­ing 96-78 loss just a fort­night prior.

Fac­ing their big­gest test of the sea­son so far, New­cas­tle were keen to build a big lead in front of the Sport Cen­tral faith­ful be­fore they head down to the Cop­per­box Arena for to­mor­row’s sec­ond leg.

Af­ter a few mis­fires from both sides on of­fence, the first quar­ter be­gan to heat up, with both sides go­ing blow for blow in the early stages.

Lead­ing the charge for the Ea­gles were point-guard Rah­mon Fletcher and for­ward Vic­tor Moses, who both net­ted dif­fi­cult three point­ers early in the con­test be­fore mas­ter­fully con­nect­ing for a won­der­ful score to hand the hosts an early lead.

Un­for­tu­nately for the Ea­gles, Lon­don’s stars were also out in full force, with for­ward Ladar­ius Tabb and reign­ing league MVP Justin Robinson high­light­ing why the Lions are one of the BBL’s lead­ing lights this year, show­ing off some clin­i­cal shoot­ing and some dom­i­nant drives to the bas­ket – the score sit­ting at 21-17 in favour of the vis­i­tors at the end of Q1.

Un­like the start of the first quar­ter, the sec­ond was played at a fran­tic pace with the Ea­gles dis­play­ing their cham­pi­onship pedi­gree on both of­fence and de­fence as Fab Flournoy’s men man­aged to pull off a 10-point swing to give them­selves a 27-21 lead early on in Q2.

How­ever, the BBL lead­ers came out fight­ing – ty­ing the con­test be­fore pulling in front to take a 35-33 lead.

But thank­fully for the Ea­gles, the in­tro­duc­tion of vet­eran Dar­ius Defoe helped to set­tle a nervy sec­ond quar­ter, with the for­ward show­ing off his ath­leti­cism to dunk over the Lions de­fence, giv­ing the Ea­gles a slen­der 38-37 lead head­ing into half time.

If the sec­ond quar­ter started off fast, then the third started off faster with the noise lev­els within Sport Cen­tral ris­ing af­ter ev­ery score.

Q3 started with both sides trad­ing early blows be­fore Fletcher and Moses con­nected again for an­other score that roused the Sport Cen­tral crowd to its feet.

Shortly after­wards, the Ea­gles looked to have pulled fur­ther in front thanks to some clin­i­cal shoot­ing from Moses – but an er­ror from Flournoy handed the Lions an easy three points

With nei­ther team able to es­tab­lish a sig­nif­i­cant lead late in Q3 it looked as though the fourth quar­ter would be a nervy one.

But, right be­fore the end of the quar­ter, some fan­tas­tic work on both sides of the ball from guard Jeremy Smith handed the Ea­gles a cou­ple of free throws to push the hosts lead out to four head­ing into the fi­nal quar­ter – the score sit­ting at 58-54.

With the Rocky Bal­boa theme blar­ing out of the Sport Cen­tral speak­ers it al­most seemed fit­ting that a con­test be­tween two of Bri­tish bas­ket­ball’s heavy­weights would head down to the wire.

The Ea­gles came out on top early in the fourth quar­ter with Fletcher, who fin­ished the con­test with 22 points, again show­ing off his hot hand to push the hosts out fur­ther in front.

Not to be de­terred, the Lions came back in roar­ing fash­ion with MVP Robinson and for­ward Bran­don Peel both con­vert­ing im­pres­sive three point­ers to keep the score to close.

What fol­lowed was a cou­ple of mo­ments of si­lence at Sport Cen­tral with the vis­it­ing Lions racing up the court to con­vert two easy lay-ups to take a two-point lead late in the fourth.

But those mo­ments of si­lence were soon for­got­ten thanks to the mag­nif­i­cent ef­forts of Fletcher who man­aged to some­how find the bas­ket twice in quick suc­ces­sion to put the Ea­gles in front 75-73 with only 1:47 left on the clock.

Time was run­ning out for the Lions who were look­ing to put the game away but were un­able to af­ter some staunch de­fence from Flournoy’s side.

And thank­fully for the hosts a missed three-pointer at the buzzer from Lions for­ward Peel meant that the Ea­gles sur­vived gift­ing the Sport Cen­tral crowd an early Christ­mas present with the con­test fin­ish­ing 75-73.

Vic­tor Moses of the Ea­gles beats the Lions’ de­fence

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