With home advantage, Newcastle Eagles only secured a two-point cushion from the first leg of their BBL Playoff quarter-final.

The BBL Cup winners – paced by 20 points and seven rebounds from Justin Gordon – required two late free throws from Darius Defoe to snatch a 79-77 victory over Sheffield Sharks, the most precarious of aggregate leads headed into Thursday’s second leg.

As so often this term, the good and bad of Ian MacLeod’s men were on display within an almost empty Vertu Arena with Eagles marching 61-44 ahead early in the third period as their momentum from a charge in the second spilled over.

But Sheffield are lately masters of the ying and yang too. An 11-0 run, concluded by Jordan Ratinho, reduced their deficit to a mere 70-68 with 7:19 left.

And with Newcastle’s shots missing their marks, the Sharks even dared to briefly edge in front before they settled for a fine return on the road, with Jeremy Hemsley a perfect 9-9 from two-point range for his game-best 21 points.

“We just let them come back,” said Gordon. “They turned on the intensity and we allow them to get easy looks and 50:50 balls. We have to get on those and end those possessions.”

Now it is effectively winner take all in Game 2. And Sharks coach Atiba Lyons said: “We made some slight adjustments at half-time and the group made some great plays.”

Just in time, he acknowledged. “We;’re happy to be in with a shot. It could have been really ugly for us. To have this chance against a really good Newcastle team after how we played the first half, we couldn’t ask for more.”

Tuesday’s other game saw Plymouth Raiders overcome an early deficit to snatch an 84-82 win over Worcester Wolves.

The Wolves raced into a 30-14 lead in the opening period before the Devon outfit hit back with a vengeance to draw level late in the second before their rivals edged 48-46 clear at half-time.

“We showed some mettle to fight back,” said Raiders coach Paul James.

It became a chess game with Matt Newby’s lower seeds attempting to regather and secure the upper hand headed back to a second leg on their home court.

Plymouth, already short-handed with last month’s abrupt departures of Prince Ibeh and Denzil Ubiaro, scrapped royally but their ranks were diminished further mid-way through the fourth when Ashley Hamilton was ejected for a second technical incurred during a brush with Jordan Williams as both jawed going up the floor.

Others stepped up, with Mike Morsell granting the Raiders a first lead of the night and then adding a further jumper as James’ men advanced 82-78 to the good and held on.

Rickey McGill, compelled to play every minute of the tie, contributed a game-high 28 points.

“We started sluggish in the first quarter,” the American guard said. “They came out with their best shot. They’re a very good team.”

Elijah Burns scored 18 to pace Worcester with Williams adding 12 points and ten rebounds.

“It’s going to be an interesting one, one for the fans,” said Newby of the return. “That’s what we want for the league – and for ourselves.”

2nd leg Schedule (at Worcester Arena)


Bristol Flyers (56-85) Leicester Riders (5pm), Cheshire Phoenix (66-73) London Lions (7.30)


Sheffield (77-79) Newcastle (5pm), Worcester (82-84) Plymouth (7.30)

Pics: Ahmedphotos

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