worcester wolves 2014Worcester Wolves secured the 2014 BBL Play-Off title at Wembley Arena with a 90-78 victory over Newcastle Eagles, providing a fitting accompaniment to the BBL Trophy secured in March and completing a season to remember for Paul James’ side.

A 19-0 run in the third quarter, and a MVP display from Zaire Taylor that saw the American guard score a game-high 30 points and add nine assists, ensuring the league champions would end the campaign in despair rather than joy.

The Eagles simply could not live with the verve and hunger of their rivals and were left, just as 12 months ago, with runners-up medals as their consolatory reward.

For the Wolves, a relentless fearless performance brought its just reward. “We said we wanted to win a trophy this year, even two things,” James declared. “And it’s come true.”

With Taylor energising the first-time finalists, an 11-2 run sent Worcester scampering 31-15 in front early in the second period with Newcastle disjointed and depressed.

However Darius Defoe provided an unlikely spark, notching 14 of his team-best 22 points by the break and keying a 17-4 burst which brought the Eagles back from the dead.

Charles Smith, in what could prove to be his last-ever appearance, turned back the clock to his youth with a dunk that drew the league champions ever closer but although the deficit was trimmed to a solitary point, Taylor drained a three on the buzzer as the Wolves cemented their advantage at 48-42 at half-time.

The pendulum had irrevocably swung. Perhaps even earlier Eagles player-coach Fab Flournoy sensed.

“It was a battle of wit and wills,” he declared. “Early on both teams were feeling each other out but it was three-quarters of the way through the opening quarter, they got their confidence going and we never got out of the starting blocks.”

Taylor, the BBL Player of the Year was not to be denied his second successive play-off crown. The scourge of Newcastle when Leicester despatched the Eagles in this showpiece in 2013, the Stateside sophomore dug a trench which fortified his team’s position.

Finishing off three successive fast breaks, he polished off a decisive surge as Flournoy’s men were dealt punch and counter-punch, struggling to deal with a zone defence which, while atypical of their rivals’ approach this term, smothered their attempts to hit back.

“It meant so much to all of us,” Taylor claimed. “We felt like we needed this to close the season off right.”

Defoe, picking up a technical foul, could not conceal his frustration at a lack of response.

His was a lone stand. Over the past six years, these have been the kind of battles which have defined the most successful franchise in British basketball history. Not this time, perhaps not again. It may be time for some offseason surgery.

Eventually 70-48 clear, and 20 points ahead as the final quarter began, Worcester’s march to a second trophy of this campaign became a procession.

Taylor: MVP

Taylor: MVP

Will Creekmore, who added 14, owned the middle. A supporting cast of shooters, Jamal and Kai Williams especially, added extra firepower.

The Eagles soared briefly with Smith forcing James to take a time-out with 4:27 left when he reduced the gap to nine. It applied pressure but not enough to force a collapse.

Ultimately, the Wolves prevailed with an adroit showing which was, fittingly, Taylor made.

“We knew that if we were to win, we had to win the rebounding battle,” said James, with a 47-39 advantage answering his call.

“Our turnovers had to be down. We felt that if we got them into the half-court game, we’d do well. I don’t think we played zone all season but we had to give them a different look. So we pressed down the floor a little bit to see what happens. And the guys stayed like that for a little bit and did fantastically well to get some consecutive stops.

“We were very patient on the offensive end. It was just a fantastic win.”

Flournoy was a contrast in his emotions. My younger players, he declared, had froze on the big stage. At the age of 40, there is inevitably a question over his own future, as both player and as coach.

“I’ll cross that bridge after Tuesday because Monday we have the close off of players,” Flournoy admitted.

“I’ll re-evaluate my situation just like I’ll evaluate every player on this team. I don’t like to make a knee jerk reaction after a one-off final.”

It will give him food for thought. For James, for Worcester, champagne will be a drink of choice as they head into the summer on a high. The challenge will be to remain at the summit.

On this day, in north London, their stock has never stood so high.

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