DURHAM WILDCATS lost out to Newcastle Eagles in their first-ever play-off clash after 22 points from Darius Defoe helped the top seeds to a 97-82 win and move one step closer to another date at Wembley Arena.
The centre was in great form and proved unstoppable under the hoop as the visiting team made the short trip back up the A1 clutching a ticket for the BBL Play-off semi-finals.
But if it was to be Durham’s last outing of an historic campaign, they weren’t going to go down without a fight and posted a 17-4 start to the second quarter.
Danny Huffor put Wildcats 39-34 ahead on the night and while any prospect of overturning the damage from the first leg looked remote, the hosts did everything they could to go make life tricky for their neighbours.
However, Eagles then scored nine of the last eleven points in the first-half to regain the initiative and when they returned after the interval, kept the upper hand to eventually stroll to another comfortable success.
Malik Cooke and Paul Gause were both excellent in the back court for the victorious side with a combined 39 points.
Huffor starred in defeat with a game high 28 points.
In the first leg, Ralph Bucci’s two three pointers helped Wildcats to a superb 4-18 lead six minutes in.
Charles Smith scored Newcastle’s first basket in four minutes, but shot 2/11 in the first half, and the Eagles looked to Cooke as he scored the first five in a 14-4 finish that ended with his buzzer-beating triple to get the Eagles back to 20-24.
Cooke then tied the game as he opened the second with consecutive baskets and it was tight until Martin’s triple broke a tie at 30 and the Eagles went on to score seven straight.
The Wildcats missed six three pointers after their early flurry, and trailed 39-34 going into the break.
But Newcastle had the last word and showed their championship credentials late in the game, initially taking a 65-58 lead into the fourth quarter as Fab Flournoy and Paul Gause took turns to score consecutive baskets.
Defoe took over in the fourth as he scored four early points to restore the double digit lead at 79-68 and, when Eagles stopped Wildcats scoring for five minutes down the stretch, the lead became 93-71 in a 13-1 run sparked by morale-sapping ‘and-one’ plays from Defoe and Gause. Eagles look good for another semi-final berth.