NEWCASTLE DIG DEEP, PILE HIGH

Newcastle Eagles retained the BBL Cup after a brilliant 94-82 win over Leicester Riders.

And once again, Fab Flournoy’s men showed their mettle when it mattered most, trailing for the first time at half-time in this remarkable unbeaten season before rallying with magnificent poise.

The holders were as much as 14 adrift but a 12-2 run in the third re-ignited the contest in Birmingham, just when Leicester appeared poised to pull out an upset.

And the Eagles soared clear in the fourth, behind a game-high 18 points from Final MVP Rahmon Fletcher.

“That’s my job,” the American guard said. “They are a tough team. They were well prepared for us and I think it says a lot about us that we had our back against the wall and we knew that we could play much better.

“We knew that we took their best shot in the first half and, in the fourth quarter, we just had to step on their throat.”

It was tough on Leicester who were impeccable in taking the Tyneside outfit on at their own game, pushing the pace, efficiently executing, and refusing to back down to a foe who are expected to complete a second successive clean sweep.

A winning streak that extends back to last April was under serious threat. The Riders took control in the second period with Shane Walker capping a 20-6 burst that eventually propelled Rob Paternostro’s men 50-41 ahead at the break.

Flournoy, chasing his 23rd trophy of this unparalleled reign, was apoplectic. He is not accustomed to such frailties exposed.

Trayvonn Wright hit a three that extended the cushion to 68-54 with 4:14 left in the third. The cause seemed hopeless. But there are precedents aplenty.

“I don’t think we expected that when we had that lead, that we were going to run away with it,” Riders coach Rob Paternostro admitted. “All great teams, in championship games, are going to make a run at you.”

Drew Lasker brought matches and lit a spark. Smith worked the magic seen so often in the past. Newcastle surged. Leicester cowered.

When Neil Watson scored with 3:51 remaining, it was a curtain call. The Eagles signed off with 10 points in a row, a punctuation that sentenced Leicester to the role of spectators as yet another piece of silverware was packed for north-east England.

“We’ve got some quality players all the way down,” Flournoy said. “Drew Lasker made a big impact. Fletch and Chuck are the dynamic duo. And when it started getting close at the end, Scotty made plays. We have that (2015 Trophy final) in the back of our heads that we knew we could come back. And we did.”

Fletcher was instrumental (Mansoor Ahmed)

Fletcher was instrumental (Mansoor Ahmed)

Wright and Drew Sullivan had 14 each for Leicester who will now continue what is a lone pursuit of Newcastle for the league title. They will need to nurse the wounds and quickly re-group.

“For two-and-a-half quarters we were in good shape,”Paternostro said. “We shut off a little bit defensively, gave them some open looks and they got on a roll.

“We allowed too much penetration to the basket, you can make mistakes in games and they have got to make shots, and they did make the shots. When we made a few defensive mistakes they punished us, by making the shots from the outside.”

Game stats

In the WBBL Trophy Final, Sheffield Hatters hammered Barking Abbey Crusaders 79-45 to retain the prize behind 21 points from Helen Naylor.

Main Pic: Mansoor Ahmed

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