A RELIEVED Newcastle Eagles dodged a bullet to reach next months’ BBL Cup Final after crashing 91-83 at home to Plymouth Raiders – having blown a 17-point first-leg lead to force overtime in one of the most incredible games in British Basketball League history, writes PAUL NILSEN
Having swept Raiders aside completely last Sunday by 107-90 during the first semi-final game, nobody gave the Devon club a prayer of retrieving the situation.
Perhaps that was on the Eagles’ minds as they produced one of their most turgid performances in recent memory.
It was an atrocious display which brought the club to within a whisker of what would have undoubtedly been one of the darkest moments of Fab Flournoy’s glorious reign.
Ultimately, they dug themselves out of a terrible situation by the skin of their teeth – but managing to progress over the tie didn’t detract from their failings which Flournoy and assistant coach Dave Forrester will need to consider carefully.
The Raiders not only wiped out the 17 point deficit from the first leg which forced overtime to try and split the two clubs, they even had the audacity to take the lead.
However, a late surge and a bit of good fortune helped the Eagles to escape.
Fans inside Sport Central could barely believe what was unfolding in front of their eyes as Plymouth dominated from tip to the fourth quarter buzzer before, much to the relief of everyone, eventually running out of steam.
Such a heroic effort was probably always going to result in the Raiders fading.
As the Eagles finally wrestled the initiative away from the excellent visitors, it was hard for anyone associated with the club to celebrate reaching yet another showpiece final.
Outside of a monumental double-double by Kareem Maddox, there was little for the Eagles to look back on with any kind of satisfaction – other than the obvious of lining up most likely against title rivals Leicester Riders.
Off-colour offensively and subjected to outstanding defence, the Eagles didn’t catch fire at any stage – indeed they barely smouldered with all aspects of their game failing.
The Raiders led by double-digits for most of the game and it set up a tension-soaked finale when Jeremy Bell got lucky off the backboard with a three-pointer to tie things up with less than 30 seconds remaining and wipe out the deficit.
Joe Chapman had the chance to sneak a win right at the death in regulation time but couldn’t make the play, which meant an additional five minutes of play.
With Darius Defoe having fouled out, the momentum seemed to still be with the Raiders and especially when they went ahead, but the defending champions were not to be denied as the Eagles took their second chance to get the job done.
There’s no doubt this was one of the craziest games and most disappointing performances the Eagles have taken part in during the last decade.