NEWCASTLE Eagles have built an indomitable spirit ever since Fab Flournoy took the reins, and while personnel has changed down the years, this particular quality has never been diluted – as evidenced by a terrific success at Plymouth Raiders last night.
Make no mistake, Flournoy and his under-fire players were once again entangled in a fascinating match-up with the Raiders, and staring squarely at a potentially unpalatable defeat.
Reminiscent of when they dodged a bullet in the BBL Cup semi-final at the hands of the Devon club, this time their BBL Championship title bid was under threat of being severely dented as the Eagles found themselves down another hole and on the verge of an unthinkable second league loss in 24 hours – having previously suffered a solitary league loss all season.
So, having crashed at Worcester, the Eagles found themselves down by ten points against Raiders with less than six minutes remaining, without the considerable firepower of the injured Charles Smith and with Joe Chapman still struggling for his usual sparklingform. Turning round the 62-52 deficit looked unlikely to say the least, and Eagles fans will have been bracing themselves for a desperately disappointing weekend which would have severely hampered their title prospects.
But, if there’s one golden rule when it comes to Flournoy and the Eagles, it’s to write them off at your peril – as a Raiders team prematurely tasting sweet revenge for their cup exit were soon to find out.
The Eagles launched a stunning and successful salvage mission in the late stages, holding Raiders to a solitary basket in five minutes, while pouring in 13 points down the other end to take an unlikely lead.
Once they levelled and got their noses in front, they never looked back, although they made hard work of wrapping up a super road win from the foul line by missing several free-throws in the dying seconds to further fray the nerves.
But, when the final buzzer sounded, there was a palatable sense of relief.
This was as important a win as you could imagine during what will be a long league season. And, come April, it may just be the one that Flournoy and his players look back on with some comfort.
The most encouraging aspect is that the foundation of the victory wasn’t built on the older hands of Charles Smith or Joe Chapman; this was built around summer arrivals Damon Huffman and Kareem Maddox.
Yes, Flournoy will speak first of team defence and rightly so, but you can’t ignore the 43-point contribution of Huffman and Maddox, with the latter completing a double-double to underline why he is the BBL player of the month. Still, it isn’t all good news. The Eagles were indeed completely destroyed by the Wolves 88-73, and the extent of the injury to Smith is still to be confirmed – which is a real worry ahead of a crunch match-up with title rivals Surrey Heat at Sport Central on Friday night.
PLYMOUTH: Schneck 22, Bell 18, Ojo 10.
NEWCASTLE: Maddox 24, Huffman 19, Chapman 11