NEWCASTLE MARCH ON TOWARD TITLE

In the battle of the top two in the BBL Championship, it was the Newcastle Eagles who extended their lead at the top of the table thanks to a thrilling 102-100 victory over Worcester Wolves.

A three-pointer from Joe Chapman gave the Eagles the lead at 95-98 with 1:32 remaining.  A pair of free-throws from Charles Smith sandwiched between a Richie Gordon basket and another three-pointer from Prezzie-Blue saw the game all tied up at 100-100 with 25 seconds remaining.

Both sides had opportunities to win the game, but a Smith basket with 11 seconds was decisive and despite a three-pointer attempt from Freeman with four seconds left which fell short, the Eagles held on for the all-important victory to open up a six point gap at the top of the table.

Earlier in the game, both sides traded baskets at the start of the opening quarter, but it was the home side who made the first significant break of the game as they opened up a 20-14 lead off the back of a 7-2 run midway through the period.  A Tommy Freeman basket gave the Wolves a 28-19 lead towards the end of the quarter but a pair of free throws from Paul Gause closed the deficit to seven points at 28-21 at the end of the first period.

In the second quarter the Wolves got their lead back out to nine points at 32-23, but a 16-4 burst from the Eagles saw the visitors go in front midway through the second period.  Both sides traded baskets for much of the remainder of the half, but with the scores tied at 47-47, the home side once again enjoyed a strong run as a pair of free-throws from Arnas Kazlauskas and back-to-back three pointers from Sherrad Prezzie-Blue saw the Wolves heading into the locker rooms with a 55-47 lead at the half.

In the second half another Freeman basket gave the Wolves the lead at 62-55 midway through the third quarter, but the Eagles found their range from beyond the arc as they drained four consecutive three-pointers in a 14-4 tear.

In the final period the Wolves opened up a 90-83 lead midway through the final quarter, but they could not extend their advantage further as the Eagles clawed their way back into the contest before the fireworks of the closing stages occured.

Chapman led all scorers in the game with an impressive 39-point haul for the Eagles in a thrilling game, while Prezzie-Blue led the scoring for the Wolves with 27 points for the Wolves.

Leicester Riders found life a little easier as they defeated Sheffield 74-64 at the John Sanford Centre.

The Sharks started the game brightly opening up an early 9-4 lead, but the Riders got themselves back into the game and never looked back as they rolled over the Sharks in the second half of the low-scoring affair to move themselves into third position in the table while the Sharks fell to joint-sixth.

In the second half the Sharks closed the deficit to three points early on at 43-40, but the Riders kept their noses in front thanks to a 15-5 burst to break the game open and extend their lead to 13 points at 58-45 and they held onto that advantage as they lead 60-47 heading into the final stanza.

In the final period the Sharks tried desperately to get themselves back into the contest but were unable to get any closer than nine points at 60-51 at the start of the quarter, but the Riders made the game safe as they enjoyed their biggest lead of the game at 73-56 off the back of the 6-0 tear midway through the stanza and they held on for the all-important victory.

On Sunday, Glasgow Rocks produced a late rally to freeze out Guildford Heat and take an 86-75 win at the Kelvin Hall.

Mychal Green hit a game-high 22 points as the hosts delivered a decisive 14-2 run in the fourth period that kept them in sixth place in the BBL.

“We had a terrible fourth quarter,” said Heat coach Creon Raftopoulos. “We just made some fundamental mistakes.”

Friday: Jets end barren run

In the league, the Cheshire Jets snapped a four game losing streak in satisfying fashion as they beat their North West rivals the Mersey Tigers 83-72.

It is only their second road win of the season in the league, although they did previously win at the Tigers in the BBL Trophy in October. The Tigers remain winless at home since the start of December, when they beat the Jets in overtime.

In a game that was tight throughout, the Jets were led by 23 points and 6 assists from Adam Brown while Matt Schneck had a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds. Myles Hesson led the resistance, with a massive 18 points and 18 rebounds.

The Jets gained the ascendancy when they finished the second quarter with the last 8 points to take a 35-38 lead into the second half. And they maintained their lead in the third period, flirting with a double-digit margin as they led by nine points: back-to-back baskets from Schneck made the score 47-56 and they still led by nine until Antonio Bustamante hit a three-pointer on the buzzer to set up an exciting fourth quarter.

That seemed to buoy the Tigers, as they opened the decisive period with an 11-5 run to tie the game at 63 on Matt Otten’s three-pointer. But the Jets steadied themselves and regained their lead on Adam Brown’s triple; and it was he who proved to be their match-winner soon after. Leading by just three points heading into the final minute, Brown made an old-fashioned three-point play and then held his nerve for 2/2 at the free-throw line to see his team up 76-67 with 45 seconds to play.

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