Newcastle Eagles produced a strong second half display to defeat Glasgow Rocks 106-84 to make it five straight wins in defence of their title. Meanwhile, Cheshire Jets claimed local bragging rights with an 88-64 success against the Mersey Tigers.
The lights went out in the Emirates Arena in the first half and then Newcastle shot the proverbial lights out in the second to prevent Glasgow making it a winning start to their new home. The defending champions broke clear in the fourth outscoring their opponents 40-17.
Glasgow edged the opening quarter to lead 17-16 after ten minutes and were still in front midway through the second before the game was delayed following a light failure in the arena. When play resumed, Andrew Wedemire added six points for the Rocks as they looked in a strong position at 40-27. The deficit was considerably reduced by Newcastle in the final two minutes of the half as a 13-2 burst, sparked by a Joe Chapman three, meant they went into the interval down by two at 42-40.
The momentum was with the visitors but Glasgow came out well at the start of the third and managed to increase their lead up to six points. However, the Eagles swooped in again and the teams exchanged the lead several times before Kareem Maddox to put Newcastle ahead by one, 66-65 with ten minutes to go.
The lead would not be relinquished and Huffman set the tone with a triple to open the scoring in the final stanza. Donald Robinson made it a one point game with a three pointer before Newcastle moved clear as a 10-2 burst opened up a nine point lead. The gap remained when EJ Harrison netted a triple with four minutes remaining, 77-86. However, Chapman took over with ten of the next twelve points in a dominant spell for the Eagles including back to back triples.
Charles Smith brought the ton up for the visitors whilst taking his tally to a game high 31 points before Maddox sealed the win with a dunk to end with 29 points and 12 rebounds. Harrison top scored for the Rocks with 23 points with GB Olympian, Kieron Achara adding 18 points and 14 boards on his return to Glasgow.
Alif Bland had an impressive debut for the Jets in their 88-64 win over the Tigers. The American centre top scored with 17 points, along with Gabriele Haskins, and started with a powerful dunk in his four point opening. The home side raced into an 11 point lead which became 23-15 after ten minutes.
Chris Bigley made successive baskets as the visitors made a bright start to the second. Josh McGinn nailed a three before feeding an alley-oop dunk to Daniel Pilkington to tie the game at 30. Cheshire responded and Chez Marks capped an 11-0 burst with a score from beyond the arc. Niel Gillard followed suit with a three of his own at the buzzer as the Jets extended their lead to 48-34 at the interval.
Haskins added four points when play resumed to take the lead beyond 20 points for the first time. Hulsen was instrumental for the Tigers and was often at the core of the team’s mini-bursts. Gillard had the final say in the quarter again with his three giving the Jets a 67-42 advantage to take into the final stanza.
Hulsen sparked a run of seven unanswered points but the gap between the two sides was too big to overhaul. Phil Brandreth made back to back scores as the lead began to rise. Bland sealed the win with a late three but it was a more respectable outing from Mersey with more players expected to join in the coming weeks. A comfortable win for the Jets though in the end with head-coach James Hamilton able to give a run out to the younger members of the bench.
Hamilton was pleased with the win but is not going to get carried away: “With only a week of practice we have to be happy with what we did today,” said the 43 year old. “It’s early days, the rest of the teams are six weeks ahead of us and it will take us some time to gel.”
Additional reporting: Nate Williams