Newcastle Eagles lifted the BBL Trophy with a 96-90 win over Leicester Riders in Glasgow.

For thrills and spills, the Emirates Arena was the place to be. Finals are usually tense, tortured affairs where the grind is all, and the result all that counts.

Caution, from both sides, was thrown to the wind. It was relentless and enthralling but ultimately, the Tyneside outfit did enough – but only just – to lift this prize for the sixth time in their history with Scott Martin instrumental with a team-high 20 points.

“It was just a great game to be involved in,” said Charles Smith, the game’s Most Valuable Player , who adding 14 of his 18 points during an intense fourth quarter. “Both teams played a great game. It was a bunch of runs and in the end we just made the last run.”

Fab Flournoy’s men, the heavy favourites as they chased the second part of a potential clean sweep, asserted themselves early to move 20-14 ahead in what quickly became an offensive blitz from both sides worthy of an All Star game.

But the Eagles’ defensive rotations were suspect and Jamell Anderson was electric, sparking Riders ahead before Andre Jones levelled at 45-45 at half-time.

Flournoy instigated an inquest.

“He went round the locker room and asked the guys individually when they thought was the problem,” Andy Thomson said. “We addressed what we thought we needed to do and came out in the second half and tried to rectify those.”

Still, Leicester re-emerged buoyant, and an 8-2 burst prolonged their momentum before a three-pointer from Anderson pushed their advantage to 66-57 with 3:15 left in the third.

“We were never in the lead thinking we were in a great position,” Paternostro admitted. “Especially against them.”

The Eagles, inevitably, had more to give. An 11-2 run pushed them back ahead. Then Anderson, as a pulsating period concluded, buried from long-range once more as Leicester stole a 73-71 cushion headed into the fourth.

Flournoy: rally

Flournoy: rally

Inspiration for the eventual victors came from a familiar source. Flournoy, hobbling off in pain, his season perhaps ended by a suspected torn Achilles, issued a rallying cry. “I tell you one thing … we ain’t losing this f**king game.”

His charges listened. “He’s always held us accountable for everything we do on the court,” Thomson said. “It came down to the end and we had to back each other up.” Even as momentum swung like a pendulum. It went back. It went forth. Cause, effect, response. And repeat.

Smith broke out of his personal slump and did what he has done so often, step up when it counts. A trio of treys in quick succession carried the league leaders on his back, the third tilting his side 90-88 in front with two minutes left, a score that left his opponents visibility stung, the more remarkable for his revelation afterwards that he had been playing with a fractured hand.

Newcastle’s experienced crew held their nerve. And Leicester, with Anderson benched for the close on a team-best 20 points, could not produce a miracle as great as their contribution to a classic finale, held scoreless for the last 72 seconds.

Who would now bet against Flournoy and his charge for destiny when the league and play-off titles are handed out?

“It’s never been mentioned in the locker room,” Thomson added. “Fab’s never mentioned it. It’s just the media who mention it.” One game at a time, as ever. It seems, however, only a matter of time.

Leicester will now re-group for a play-off tilt. With Anderson and Conner Washington underlining the potentially huge returns from investing in nurturing talent, there was still much to savour despite the disappointment.

It was not inexperience that proved fatal down the stretch, Paternostro underlined. Just one old guy who knows how to throw daggers.

“They had players who made big shots and big plays,” he said. “I love the way our guys played. We played with composure for most of the game. Down the stretch a couple of our shots when in and out and theirs went in.

“That’s sport. We’ve been on the other side of it. But it was a phenomenal game and I’m proud of the way we’ve improved. It’s good to see our best basketball is coming at the end of the season.”

Photos: Mansoor Ahmed

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