Newcastle Eagles were forced to battle to remain in first place in the British Basketball League, pushed all the way before edging out Plymouth Raiders 97-94.

And a hard-fought tie came down to the dying seconds, Charles Smith hit two free-throws in his game-high tally of 26 points to see the Eagles to safety.

The Devon outfit lead their guests 52-48 at half-time but in the second half it was a complete reversal of fortunes as it was the Eagles who started the half the stronger thanks to a 11-3 start to the third quarter to give the visitors the lead at 61-57.

The Raiders tried desperately to get themselves back into the game, but they were unable to find the same offensive efficiency as the Eagles continued to extend their lead thanks to a 12-3 burst which helped open up a 76-66 gap heading into the final stanza.

In the final period Plymouth used a 11-2 tear to trim the deficit to 82-81 but Newcastle held their hosts off.

Mersey Tigers stayed firmly on Newcastle's shoulder with a 79-74 victory at Cheshire Jets. 

With the visitors 73-71 ahead, a pair of free-throws from Nate Reinking saw the Tigers extend their lead with 19 seconds remaining. Quemont Greer and James Jones traded baskets before Colin O'Reilly bagged one of his two free-throws to trim the deficit to a one-shot game with seven seconds left. However a foul on Andrew Sullivan sent the Tigers captain to the line and he held his nerve to sink both attempts.

Up 38-36 at half-time, three-pointers from Jones and Andrew Thomson helped spark a 12-4 Mersey burst to extend the visitors lead 58-47 but the home side were not to be broken that easily and a 10-2 run from the Jets got them right back into the game.

In the final period, a 9-4 tear closed the Jets deficit to 67-66 before the fireworks of the closing stages. Jones led all scorers in the game with 21 points while Matt Schneck led the scoring for the Jets with 19.

"This was a really tough game to play between two teams who are known for their resilience and will fight for everything," said Head Coach Tony Garbelotto. "I am very proud of my team's determination to see it out and secure the win."

Guildford Heat are hanging in as the battle to remain in the BBL play-off places warms up. On Sunday, paced by 22 from Tayo Ogedengbe, they destroyed the slumping Glasgow Rocks 86-67.

The Surrey side led 42-38 at half-time but surged clear in the final quarter as turnovers cost Sterling Davis' men dear.


And Davis said: “We’re just not where we should be. You can have four guys out there doing what you want but one guy will make a mistake and that mental lapse costs you. It’s just little things but we have to get them right.”

Saturday: Sharks challenge still has bite

Sheffield Sharks are still in the BBL title hunt after they crushed Essex PIrates 81-63 on Saturday night.-

However Atiba Lyons and his team didn't have it all their own way. The home team fought hard in the first quarter and really gave the Sharks a real battle to ensure they enjoyed a share of the spoils at 16-16 after the opening period having initially stunned the title challengers by rattling off he first 7 points of the game.

However it wasn't to last when inspired by Ryan Patton, the visitors began to take over the game ahead of half time and really shift up through the gears. Essex had led 26-25 but Sharks then stepped up their defence and that paved the way for them to get hot at the other end of the floor.

They finished the opening half with a mesmerising 22-6 run which meant they held a healthy 47-32 advantage heading for the locker rooms with Patton already up to 20 points.

That gave Essex a mountain to climb and while they competed hard, with Olu Babalola and Paul Williams in top form after the break, they could make no impression and Sharks coasted to the win.

Elsewhere, Glasgow Rocks nearly suffered yet another shock loss after being pushed all the way by Worthing Thunder before grabbing a 78-71 victory on the south coast.

Nick Livas hit a game-high 19 points for the Rocks, who visit Guildford on Sunday.

Rocks player-coach Sterling Davis was satisfied with grinding out a much-needed win.

He said: "It was really good to get a road win since it is always tough to come here and go away with the points. Thunder played a really good game tonight and although we came out with a victory, it really could have gone either way."

Plymouth Raiders boosted their play-off hopes by coasting past Milton Keynes Lions 100-84.

Evaldas Zabas dropped four three-pointers on his way to 25 points and the result now leaves Lions' play-off dreams dangling by the very finest of threads.


Friday: Eagles soar clear

Newcastle Eagles held their nerve to produce a last-minute burst to defeat 91-88 Cheshire Jets and re-claim pole position in the BBL Championship. 

The sides were deadlocked at 84-84 with 80 seconds remaining but Fab Flournoy's men – with their player-coach back on court – were resolute, edging clear to go two points in front of Mersey in the title race.

Reggie Jackson hit a game-high 28 points for Newcastle, including two late free-throws, while Trey Moore hit four free-throws in the last minute to take his tally 21.

Paced by 28 form Quemont Greer, Cheshire had come back from 48-43 down at half-time but eventually trailed by as much as 80-66 with 7 minutes to go in the fourth. The visitors reeled off 12 unanswered points to threaten an upset but the Eagles woke up and struck decisively.

Elsewhere, Leicester Riders defeated Worthing Thunder 116-78, leapfrogging three of their play-off rivals into sixth place.

Ryan Zamroz led the Riders with 25 points while Adam Williams scored for lowly Worthing, who host Glasgow on Sunday.

Tuesday: Lions end barren run

Milton Keynes Lions won for the first time in eight games edging Leicester Riders 102-97.

It was the home team who took the early honours after they edged ahead 13-9 and it could have been even worse for Riders had Robert Youngblood not dropped two rare three-pointers on his ex-employers. Successive scores by visiting captain Lataryl Williams tied things up and then moments later, a very impressive and active Ryan Zamroz gave Riders the lead.

Zamroz was really pulling the strings in the absence of playmaker and backcourt partner JR Blount who would have been impressed with four assists inside the first six minutes. However he couldn't prevent Lions from moving back in front. Five points from Demarius Bolds put Lions 17-15 ahead and minutes later Shawn Myers increased the advantage to six points at 25-19.

After Youngblood drained a pair of three-pointers earlier in the quarter they was a certain sense of déjà vu when another veteran and former Lions player in the form of Tony Windless then hit back to back triples to help Riders edge a hugely entertaining opening quarter 29-28.

With the teams sharing 57 points and dropping 8 shots from downtown, most fans probably expected defences to be tightened. However after each team did start the second quarter slowly, it wasn't long before they both began finding their offensive rhythm once more.

Lions had moved ahead 41-39 when Stefan Gill buried another outside score and then followed it up with an inside score and free-throw to take the home team into a 47-39 lead. One again Riders worked hard to get it back to a one shot game with Youngblood dunking his way to 15 points in the half at 51-48 with thirty seconds until the break but it was fellow vet Myers who had the last say for Lions.

He completed a rare four point play after he was hit by Tom Sherlock after making a three-pointer to help Lions into a 55-48 half-time lead. Things got worse for Riders after the interval when they failed to adjust their perimeter defence and Yorick Williams capitalised to hand the hosts a double digit advantage at 58-48.

Just when they were sinking, James Whyte drilled home two treys in a hurry for the visitors to give his team hope. Despite going 17 down, they rallied in the final minute to cut the deficit to just ten points heading into the final quarter.

Scores by Gill and Myers settled home nerves at the start of the fourth period but Riders came storming back yet again with more devastating outside shooting. Whyte and Zamroz converted either side of a Youngblood pair from the line to cut the gap to just five points at 90-85 with a little over six minutes remaining

As with all Lions games of late, there was a nail-biting finale when Williams scored four points in a row for Riders to reduce the deficit to 94-92 heading into the last two minutes and it was just one point with 30 seconds left after two Zamroz free-throws. However Bolds then made four of five from the line when it mattered to see his team home.

Myers had a double-double of 22 points and 14 rebounds while Zamroz had 25 points and 12 assists for Leicester.

Tigers change up

Meanwhile, Mersey Tigers are to return to the Echo Arena for their final five home games of the season after playing at the John Amaechi Centre in Manchester and in Birchwood for all but one of their home games in 2011,

Owner Gary Townsend said: "We are extremely grateful to the Echo Arena for working with us and making this happen. Our difficulties in finding a home venue have been well-publicised, and this now means we can focus on getting the team out on the court, and of course getting the fans behind us.”


The games are as follows: Tuesday March 22 v Newcastle Eagles; Friday March 25 v Guildford Heat; Wednesday March 30 v Sheffield Sharks;
Friday April 1 v Glasgow Rocks; Tuesday April 5 v Sheffield Sharks


Friday 18

BBL (all 7.30). Newcastle Eagles v Cheshire Jets, Leicester Riders v Worthing Thunder

Saturday 19

BBL (all 7.30). Worthing Thunder v Glasgow Rocks, Essex Pirates v Sheffield Sharks, Plymouth Raiders v Milton Keynes Lions 

Sunday 20

BBL. Guildford Heat v Glasgow Rocks (3pm), Cheshire Jets v Mersey Tigers (5.30), Plymouth Raiders v Newcastle Eagles (4pm)


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