EAGLES TIE UP SHARKS, RAIDERS COMPLETE FINAL FOUR

Newcastle Eagles drew 81-81 with Sheffield Sharks to move into the last four of the BBL Playoffs.

With Eagles arriving in Worcester for the second leg of the quarter-final with a slender 79-77 advantage, it was essentially win or go home.

It proved a gripping tie worthy of the high stakes with Ian Macleod’s men emerging with a 160-158 victory on aggregate, surviving intact from a dramatic conclusion to eventually land a semi-final date with Leicester Riders over two legs on Tuesday and Thursday of next week.

Eagles coach Ian Macleod said: “Evan Maxwell said to me ‘coach, I’ve never celebrated a draw before’. It’s all new to these guys. But guys stepped up at different teams. It’s been difficult. These guys have been judged a lot by their weakest moments. But you have to remember, we’re Cup champions. We’ve done this before in big games.”

Atiba Lyons’ men, in apparent control for most of the contest, surged 70-56 in front off a 10-0 run with 7:20 left, only for Newcastle to rally to level with a late 11-3 burst when Cortez Edwards converted 1-2 from the foul line with just 29 seconds left.

Deadlocked at 79-79, Jeremy Hemsley equalised on aggregate before Justin Gordon – who had 25 points and nine rebounds – converted an alley-oop with one second left.

It was just enough, with Sharks – off a timeout – throwing a lob pass to Bennett Koch, whose push for a basket that would have forced overtime falling short. “I thought there were a few times tonight where we could have gone south,” Macleod admitted, “but we battled back.

Kipper Nichols had a team-high 20 points for Sheffield as their campaign closed. One shot at the end, one giant frustration.

“That’s how it goes with the basketball gods,” Lyons shrugged. “Some times you’re on the right side, sometimes you aren’t.”

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Worcester Wolves could not profit from home advantage as Plymouth Raiders teed up a last four match-up with London Lions with a 96-81 win in their second leg, racking up a 180-163 triumph on aggregate.

For all the talk of Raiders’ depth and budget, this was an outcome predicated on coherence as much as talent.

“We just had to buckle down, play defence and stop their best players,” said Ricky McGill, whose team gets a shot at avenging their Trophy final loss to London. “We’re going to come out and play all four quarters and try and get the win.”

Just as they did two days before, Worcester saved their best work for first, Elijah Burns and Jordan Williams a two-handed punch to forge an 11-2 lead as Raiders once crawled out of the blocks.

The retort was a little speedier second time around.

21-15 behind entering the second quarter, a 17-2 explosion asserted control for Paul James’ men and try as mightily as Burns did at times, the Wolves could never quite erase the subsequent deficit.

Even shorn of Chris Porter-Bunton as Plymouth’s numbers dwindled once again, the Devon outfit maintained their poise under pressure.

McGill, who had 29 points and seven assists in 40 minutes on the floor, ignited a splash of eleven unanswered points which ultimately provided enough breathing space, even when Martin Bouwknecht singularly scythed the differential beneath ten but could offer no more.

Bad blood behind the scenes over the past 48 hours had stirred the pot, it was revealed.

“We weren’t going to lose that game,” said James.

“We feel as number three seed, we weren’t treated properly by the BBL, or the Worcester organisation this week. So we were a little fired up with that.

“Yes, we had a slow start but it was one of those games where we would do whatever it took to win the game. And I thought the guys did a tremendous job of fighting through everything we’ve been through over the last couple of days.”

Brandon Anderson paced Worcester with 21 points while Williams added 15 points and 14 rebounds.

“They attacked Jordan after his second foul,” Matt Newby. “They were just smart where they went in the offense.”

Images: Ahmedphotos

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