THE Esh Group Eagles Newcastle took a huge step to progressing to the BBL Play-Off Semi-Finals with a superb first-leg win over local rivals Durham Wildcats at Sport Central.
The clash of the North-East’s two professional basketball teams was a historic derby with Durham having made the play-offs for the first time in their history.
But they have a mountain to climb if they are to turn around the 22-point deficit they will face on their home court at Newton Aycliffe on Sunday afternoon. For Newcastle their big men dominated with Darius Defoe and Scott Martin pulling down rebound after rebound as well as racking up the points.
With Malik Cooke also continuing his smooth scoring run and Paul Gause at his mercurial best, Wildcats simply had no answer to the power of the Eagles and when they did try to mount a run there was always the veterans Fab Flournoy and Charles Smith in the way as they anchored a great Eagles defensive showing.
For Wildcats, Odiba Attah had a big night against his former employers and the influential Ralph Bucci never gave up and tried to rally his team throughout but, in the end the BBL champions played like a number one seed as they gave themselves a great cushion for the second leg.
Durham had started like a house on fire and shot out to a 20-4 lead but that was as good as it got and gradually the Eagles began to stifle and squeeze the life out of them as they found a rhythm at both ends of the court that was difficult for Wildcats to stem.
Martin added 13 rebounds to his haul of 20 points and was a pleased man at the final buzzer - although he did give Durham a lot of credit for the way they started.
“They came in confident and with a lot of energy," said Martin. They were aggressive and made some tough shots. They looked like a team early on that was on a winning run and we looked like a team that hadn’t played in two weeks.”
“I think our defence changed things around. We pulled together gritted it out and turned things around which got us in to a good offensive rhythm and we went from there.”
“It’s a good lead to take in to the second leg but you can’t take anything for granted in the play-offs, We have to come out aggressive and hungry from the start on Sunday and start the way we finished today.”
“Once we got our rhythm going I thought we all played well and got some good shots off, made some great defensive stops and we should be able to take the confidence that gave us in to Sunday’s game.”
NEWCASTLE: Scott Martin 20, Malik Cooke 20, Darius Defoe 19
DURHAM : Odiba Attah 21, Ralph Bucci 14, Danny Huffor 10