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“Hopefully it sparks something” Newcastle Eagles down Sheffield Sharks 84-70

2M3TG7D Newcastle, England, 16 December 2022. Javion Hamlet playing for Newcastle Eagles against Leicester Riders in a British Basketball League match at the Vertu Motors Arena, Newcastle Credit: Colin Edwards/Alamy Live News

Kyle Johnson lead Marc Steutel’s team by dropping 24 as Steutel’s “must win” became a reality.

Johnson said after the match: “It feels good because I feel like we executed what we wanted to do throughout the week.

“Obviously these guys we’re chasing them in the table, so it’s a must win.

“We want the tie breaker, we want to make the playoffs and they’re ahead of us so we definitely needed to win.”

The chemistry between Johnson and Justin Gordon continues to grow, evident to the great team ball that was played, earning the Eagles 21 assists on the night

Both Newcastle centers, Hasan French and Darius Defoe, were assessed two personal fouls which Atiba Lyons’ team took advantage of, as Sheffield’s centers could not handle the bully ball the Eagles’ centers played throughout the first quarter.

A Sharks side that has had the Eagles number this season were played to a tight first quarter which saw both sides level at 21.

The second quarter started no better for the hosts as Defoe was given his third personal inside of two minutes. This forced head coach Marc Steutel to put French back on the court despite racking four turnovers before he committed his third personal foul with two and a half minutes left in the first half.

The visitors put together a good spell of possessions on both sides of the floor extending their largest lead to six, giving themselves the chance to runaway with the game like they’ve done at home against the Tyne and Wear side in the previous two fixtures this season.

Newcastle would not let the visitors runaway with the third meeting of the season and had a response to every run the Sharks had. Sheffield’s runs could be credited to Kipper Nichols as he scored half of his teams 20 points in the second quarter.

Hamlet finished the half with 19 including a buzzer beater that not only energized the team and the crowd at Vertu Motors Arena but gave the Eagles a 43-41 point lead to conclude the first half.

Just like any other home match this season during the third quarter, the Eagles had a lot of turnovers giving Sheffield many opportunities to run up the score.

French and Johnson continued to play bully ball against the Sharks center Bennett Koch, resulting in turnovers against the visitors and easy points for the hosts. Capitalizing on missed free throw by the Eagles, Lyons’ side went into the fourth quarter with a 58-60 lead over the Eagles.

A combination of poor shooting and turnovers from the Eagles as well as confidence from the Sharks saw the visitors climb to an early 61-64 lead in what has been stressed a “must win” by head coach Steutel.

With just over eight minutes left in the fourth, Ben Mockford drains a deep three cutting the lead to one and forcing a time out from Lyons. That three, followed by a Justin Gordon dunk that fired up a sold out Vertu Motors Arena changed the game.

Johnson said post match: “You want to play the game with energy, it’s a packed house everytime we come out at home.

“So we want to play with energy, play with passion and it’s contagious. At the end of the day guys feed off of that.”

The remainder of the match saw the struggling Eagles finish on a 24-4 run.

Johnson said: “We’re capable of that, it’s just about defense.

“I feel like we really settled down on defense and cleaned up the rebounding and the stuff we talked about at halftime.”

The Tyne and Wear side came out the better team in a critical four point match. The result means that the Eagles sit two games behind the Sharks and have three games in hand on Sheffield.

Looking ahead to the rest of the season Johnson said: “We’re capable of that, it’s just about defense.

“I feel like we really settled down on defense and cleaned up the rebounding and the stuff we talked about at halftime.”

Sheffield will look to recover against a confidence-struck Caledonia Gladiators on 5 February.

Newcastle Eagles will go on a road trip playing their next three matches on the road against Cheshire, Bristol, and Plymouth City before returning home on 3 March against the league leading Bristol Flyers.