Newcastle Eagles kept up the pressure on title rivals Mersey as they out-lasted Guildford Heat to pick up a 96-91 win which keeps the BBL race too close to call.

Reggie Jackson hit 33 points as Fab Flournoy's men shook off their hosts.

And it was Charles Smith who hit the biggest shot of the game with a three in the final 15 seconds that put a halt to Heat’s last-gasp run.

Heat had cut a Newcastle eight point lead to just two before Smith’s three put the game beyond their reach.

Guildford began well as threes from Carlos Medlock and Ralph Hegamin helped the home team to a 16-10 lead. Eagles responded to tie the match at 18-18 and 20-20 but a 5-0 Guildford run closed the first quarter to make it 25-20.

Eagles, through Jackson, quickly seized control. The point-guard scored six points in a 12-2 start to the second quarter. And despite Heat trimming the margin to on a Medlock technical foul led to a 4-0 burst to take Eagles 42-35 up.

The rest of the half belonged to Heat as Martel McLemore drained a three to kick-off a 15-6 run up to the interval which gave the home team a 50-48 lead.

Neither team could put together a decisive run during the third quarter. After swapping the lead several times to begin the final period, Newcastle, through a 10-0 run which saw Jackson score eight points, went 90-82 up. A 9-3 Heat burst brought it back to a two point game but Smith had the last word.

Sheffield Sharks dished out a 91-61 drubbing to Glasgow Rocks at the Kelvin Hall to enhance their own ambitions. For the hosts, there is now a question whether they can even retain their status in the play-offs.

Despite rebounding from an early deficit to briefly lead in the second quarter, Glasgow fell 37-30 behind by half-time. The momentum had shifted irrevocably. The Rocks were ripped apart in the second half with Sharks guard Ryan Patton notching 29 points – including nine-three pointers – as the visitors coasted clear.

“We were terrible across the board,” Rocks coach Sterling Davis said.

Milton Keynes Lions kept their slender play-off hopes alive by edging out Leicester Riders 99-98.

Joe Harris had put the visitors in front with two late free-throws but Demarius Bolds, with a team-best 25, notched the game-winner.

Plymouth Raiders stunned Cheshire Jets 102-92 after coming from 13 points down.

Jets had the better of the opening quarter with Colin O’Reilly giving them a 15-8 lead. Raiders kept themselves close and trailed by three after ten minutes.

A Matt Schneck putback gave Jets a double-digit lead midway through the second quarter (40-30). But again Cheshire couldn’t build on their advantage and Plymouth finished the half with a long 18-9 run to pull back to 49-48 at half time.

Cheshire looked like they were finally going to put Raiders on the back foot when a 9-0 run gave them a 65-52 lead. Plymouth slowly chipped away at the margin and two Otis Polk free throws just before the buzzer made it 76-74.

With Raiders defence noticeably better the visitors began to gain control. Anthony Rowe put them aheadand as Jets began to miss their three point attempts Plymouth moved 90-81 clear.

The Raiders lead peaked at 12 on three occasions as the Devon club completed the win to moved into sixth position.

In the basement battle, Worthing Thunder effectively condemned Essex Pirates to finish bottom of the table with an 86-74 win in Southend. Adam Williams paced their victory with 24.

Saturday: Mersey top

Mersey Tigers have re-taken top spot in the BBL Championship race after a 91-72 win at Worthing Thunder on Saturday 

With Nate Reinking out injured, the league leaders were paced by 25 points from Andrew Thompson as they moved two points clear of the Eagles for 24 hours at least.

The visitors held their advantage over their hosts to lead 42-33 at the interval.  In the second half the home side tried desperately to get themselves back into the game and managed to close the gap to five but the Tigers responded once again with a 7-0 run of their own to take the score out to 61-49.

Worthing finished the quarter on top as they netted the final five points of the period to head into the final stanza trailing by seven points at 65-58.    

In the final quarter the home side tried valiantly to get themselves right back into the game, but the Tigers broke the game open with a 20-5 burst to take the score out to 89-67 with less than two minutes remaining in the contest and they held on for the comfortable victory.   

Marlin Capers and Adam Williams led the scoring for the home side with 19 points apiece.   

At the end of the contest, Tigers Head Coach Tony Garbeletto was full of praise for his own side. "Tonight was a great performance and Andrew Sullivan was superb tonight and played well, especially in the fourth quarter.  After 5 games in 7 days this was a Championship performance."

Jeremy Bell grabbed 20 points as Cheshire Jets came from behind to edge out Worcester Wolves 75-72 and tighten their hold on fourth place.

With the game tied at 60-60 heading into the final stanza both sides traded baskets throughout much of the final quarter and a Sam Cricelli basket gave the home side the slender advantage at 72-70 with 2:52 remaining before a three-pointer and further basket from Jeremy Bell sent the visitors 75-72 ahead with two minutes left in the contest.

The Wolves had opportunities to win the game in the closing stages, but a Roderick Middleton three-pointer attempt with 40 seconds left in the contest missed and the Jets held on.

Elsewhere, Plymouth Raiders enhanced their play-offs hopes with a 97-65 thrashing of Essex PIrates.

After a hard fought opening quarter, the Raiders broke the game open with a 14-5 burst in the second quarter to move 40-26 ahead and the Pirates could find no answer.

Evaldas Zabas hit a game-high 25 points for Plymouth.

Friday: Top two win as title duel continues

The top two in the BBL Championship table moved further clear of the rest of the pack as the Mersey Tigers and Newcastle Eagles both recorded wins on Friday night.

At the Echo Arena in Liverpool, the Tigers withstood a late scare to overcome the Guildford Heat 91-87 at the Echo Arena. The win is the Tigers' fourth consecutive home win and keeps them at the top of the BBL Championship table. The Heat meanwhile, have lost 8 of their last 9 road games and missed the opportunity to move level with Leicester Riders in sixth place in the table.

 The Tigers were led by David Aliu's 18 points, supported by Jamal Williams with 17 points and both Nate Reinking and Andrew Thomson on 14. It was Carlos Medlock, for the Heat, that all scorers with 22 points.

 The game was tight throughout until the Tigers pushed their lead out to nine points in at 64-55 in the third period. But the Heat stayed in the game and made a push down the stretch and with under a minute to go a three-pointer from McLemore made the score 89-87 after the Tigers missed two free-throws. But the league-leaders held their nerve, and scored with 16 seconds left on the clock to lead 91-87 and put the game just beyond their visitors.

 Elsewhere the Newcastle Eagles bounced back from last week's defeat against title rivals Mersey to win their fifth game in six outings by beating MK Lions 99-82. For the Lions, they have slumped to ten defeats in their last eleven games.

The backcourt pairing of Trey Moore, with 23 points, and Reggie Jackson, who had 19 points and 7 assists, led the Eagles, while Kadiri Richard had a double-double of 12 points and 14 rebounds.

The Eagles had large double-digit leads in the second and third periods, after starting the second with a 15-3 run as Jackson hit a three-pointer and Moore scored consecutive baskets.

After being down by as many as 22, Demarius Bolds had almost single-handedly kept the Lions in the game and it was his score that meant they were within striking distance at 70-62 heading into the fourth. But he turned from hero to villain for the visitors as he was called for a technical foul early in the period. The Lions were punished for that as Moore made two free-throws and Andrew Bridge scoredfrom the ensuing possession, pushing the lead back out to 74-62.

Wednesday: Blood Spilt as Mersey Slip

The BBL title race took another twist on Wednesday. 24 hours after taking over top spot, Mersey Tigers led by 17, trailed by 10 but ultimately sustained a shock 89-87 defeat to Leicester Riders after Robert Youngblood’s stunning buzzer-beater

It keeps alive the intriguing three-way battle between Mersey, Newcastle and Sheffield but also moved Riders clear of a three-way tie for seventh into sixth position on their own.

Playing their third match in four days didn't seem to bother the Tigers as they opened the game with a 7-0 burst on their way to a 26-12 first quarter lead.

The hosts scrambled to close the deficit but a 6-0 run to start the second quarter made Mersey 32-15 in front.

Although Leicester rallied, a 9-2 end to the half by Mersey gave them a 49-33 lead but the Riders bolted back into contention.

Ryan Zamroz drained a three at the outset of the third quarter to begin a 21-2 run in which he scored 11 points to give Riders a 54-51 lead and a James Whyte three-pointer keyed a further 12-4 tear which sent Rob Paternostro’s men 68-60 in front entering the fourth.

Their cushion peaked at 78-67 but Mersey mounted a frantic comeback.
David Aliiu ignited a 9-0 burst to close the gap to 82-81 and set up a thrilling finish.

Zamroz – who hit a game-high 30 points – broke through and a free throw from Jo Harris stretched the lead back to four and a Whyte free throw maintained the margin with less than six seconds remaining.

However, after making one from the line Nate Reinking deliberately missed his second. Drew Sullivan picked up the rebound and James Jones tied the match at 87-87 with a three with less than a second left.

Tigers then thought they had won it when Jamal Williams stole the ball and converted a lay-up but officials determined that he was out of bounds.

Overtime seemed inevitable but, following a time-out, Youngblood produced a vintage cameo to drain the winning basket off a pass from Lataryl Williams.

Tuesday: Advantage Mersey

It’s advantage Mersey in the BBL title race. The Tigers have overtaken Newcastle and moved into top spot after edging past their rivals 88-84 on Tuesday night.

And Tony Garbelotto’s men may have inflicted a fatal blow on the men from Tyneside (19-6) after pulling away amid a third quarter flurry at the Echo Arena and then withstanding a late barrage. 

"It's the two best teams in the league at the moment," said Drew Sullivan. "It's a big rivalry. There are guys at Mersey who played there. Same with Newcastle. There are obviously going to be heated moments. But both teams played extremely hard. It went back and forth."

Without the injured Perry Lawson, the hosts struggled at the outset and it took a Nate Reinking three-pointer to put them 23-21 in front after the opening quarter.

The advantage swept back and forth but Mersey made a timely surge to go 43-36 ahead at half-time.

Their momentum continued with eight unanswered points after the break and despite Fab Flournoy’s time-out, it failed to stem the bleeding.

Jamaal Williams put the Tigers as much as 65-48 clear with nine minutes left in the fourth before the visitors finally – and impressively – hit their stride.

The gap was trimmed to 85-77 with 1:46 to go and then Trey Moore converted two free throws to finish off a 10-1 run which brought his former side back to trail 86-83 with 12 seconds left.

However Andrew Thompson was fouled and came up trumps from the line to see his side to safety.

Reinking had a team-high 19 points for Mersey, who claim first place on head to head and who can extend their cushion at the head of the standings to two points with victory over the Riders on Wednesday.

Reggie Jackson and Moore had 16 apiece for Newcastle.

Elsewhere, Mike Tuck hit 32 points as Sheffield Sharks kept their own championship ambitions alive with a 98-86 victory over Milton Keynes Lions.

The visitors, who led only briefly in the opening period, failed to recover from a 52-42 half-time deficit to further dent their play-off ambitions.

Sheffield pulled as much as 72-55 in front late in the third quarter and despite 27 points from Demarius Bolds, the strugglers never came closer than 11 in the fourth before Paul Williams hit six consecutive points to deflate their challenge.

Images: BasketballViews

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