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Newcastle Eagles get the Upper Hand

Worcester Wolves 78-86 Newcastle Eagles

Last Updated: Mar 2, 2014 08:40pm
St. Clement, Worcester
By Colin Taylor
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The three-month unbeaten run that has seen Worcester Wolves sit at the top of the British Basketball League finally came to an end on Friday at the hands of second-placed Newcastle Eagles.

In front of the largest attendance since their opening game at the University of Worcester Arena last October, the Wolves allowed their visitors to take the upper hand at the commencement of the match, and at the start of each subsequent period, leaving a deficit too large to recover from. In contrast to recent outings where several lesser-lights on the Worcester roster have stepped forward, the 78-86 reversal was marked by very little contribution from anyone other than Wolves’ ”big three” of Alex Owumi, Zaire Taylor and Will Creekmore.

The pattern for the night was established early as Eagles put up the first eight points, six of them coming from guard Malik Cooke. It was to be the third minute before Owumi set the hosts’ side of the scoreboard ticking, and a couple of minutes more before it was again troubled. Coach Paul James shuffled his formation by inserting Jamal and Kai Williams into the line-up, but this had little effect as the Wolves stared up at an 18-31 deficit by the end of the opening quarter.

Veteran Newcastle forward Charles Smith and reserve guard Paul Gause notched four points apiece as their side accelerated to a 20-39 lead after another four minutes had elapsed, before Wolves managed to make inroads. Inside baskets from Taylor and Creekmore were followed by an outside score from Owumi in a 7-0 run and, as half-time neared, Owumi was again on the mark to reduce the arrears to 38-48.

However, any hopes that a bridgehead back to a closer contest had been built were quickly dashed by the sharpshooting of Smith and his team mate Drew Lasker, who re-established a 38-55 cushion in the initial two minutes after the break. While the Eagles had little difficulty finding their aim, the Wolves struggled, putting up numerous shots that went badly off-target.

As the third period closed, Worcester benefited from charity free throws after a technical foul was called on Darius Defoe, allowing them to drag their visitors’ lead into single figures at 57-65. Unfortunately, as soon as the final ten minutes of the evening commenced, they yet again took their eye off the ball when permitting Lasker to nail consecutive scores and push matters back out to 57-70.

For the next five minutes Wolves finally managed to clamp down on the Newcastle offence, limiting them to a mere four points, while steadily building their own total. Urged on by their noisy supporters, an unlikely comeback seemed possible. A mesmerising dribble and lay-up from Taylor meant his side trailed at only 70-74 with three minutes to play, but business as usual was restored when Cooke and Gause once more connected.

In the final minute Taylor floated home a three-pointer to again bring the teams tantalisingly close at 78-82, but Newcastle retained enough professionalism to seal the victory from the free-throw line.

Coach Paul James was understandably disappointed about his side’s performance, saying: “We were lacklustre. The first quarter killed the game for us. They scored 31 points in only ten minutes of basketball, and there’s no way you can allow a team like Newcastle to do that. They did a great job of slowing our offence by getting the ball out of Zaire’s hands.”

However, looking forward to next week’s two-legged BBL Trophy semi-final against Sheffield Sharks, James was still upbeat, remarking: “One game doesn’t turn you into a bad team; we’ve had a great run up to now and just need to re-group. We won’t have a problem getting up for the matches with Sheffield, with a chance to make a final.”

Creekmore registered double-double statistics with 23 points and 19 rebounds, as did Owumi with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Taylor tallied 19 points. Smith led the way for Newcastle with 19 points, closely followed by Cooke and Gause with 18 points apiece.

The next matches for Wolves will be the Trophy encounter with Sheffield Sharks. The away-leg takes place on Friday 07 March, with the Sharks travelling to the University of Worcester Arena on Wednesday 12 March for the return.

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