NEWCASTLE Eagles have one foot in this season’s BBL Cup Final after brilliant displays from Damon Huffman and Charles Smith helped the holders to a semi-final first leg success at Plymouth.
On a night not too dissimilar to when the Eagles lifted the trophy against the Raiders at the start of the year, Smith tormented the hosts by amassing 29 points, including six triples.
This time, though, Huffman matched him all the way with the playmaker also harvesting 29 points on a truly memorable night for Fab Flournoy and his players as they continued the defence of their precious silverware.
There had been a continual downpour in the South West leading up to the game, and once the action got underway at The Pavilions, there was a different kind of deluge for the Devon club to contend with as the Eagles shot the lights out from long-range with 17 successful three-pointers.
It proved to be he right game at the right time for the visitors who were champing at the bit for a real test of their skills and credentials in the wake of a frustrating two-week lay-off followed by last Friday’s stroll past Cheshire.
The Raiders certainly felt the full backlash of an Eagles side which was full of energy and happy to run with the hosts during a frenetic opening period which they won 27-20.
That laid the tone for the game as Plymouth invited the visitors to a shootout, and it was an invitation they would soon regret as the Eagles continued to pile on the agony.
They established a double-figure lead at 54-44 by the interval, and while Jeremy Bell was causing a few problems, there was little for Flournoy to worry about during the break.
His team highlighted this by ensuring there was no loss of offensive rhythm when they stepped back onto the court and in fact, they continued to get even hotter as the game unfolded. Joe Chapman joined the party by converting with a number of three-pointers from an audacious distance and the chance of a victory subsequently evaporated for Raiders who were unable to prevent their rampant opponents surging into a 20-point lead during the final quarter.
Just when the Eagles threatened to undo some of their excellent work with a slightly sloppy finish, they managed to tidy things up during the closing seconds to ensure their long journey home was more palatable.
Raiders’ hopes of progressing, meanwhile, were left hanging by the finest of threads. In addition to the sparkling contributions of Huffman and Smith, there were excellent cameos under the basket from Darius Defoe and Kareem Maddox who combined for a highly efficient 35 points and 14 rebounds.
The added bonus for Flournoy was that he was able to rest the slight knock he sustained against Cheshire, and should be back leading by example at Sport Central on Friday during the second leg, in a bid to ensure his team finishes the job in style.
PLYMOUTH: Bell 29, Schneck 19, O’Reilly 19.
NEWCASTLE: Huffman 29, Smith 29, Maddox 16.