The highlight of this Wednesday’s sport was the basketball, which saw the Knights’ second-string team come out on top against a struggling Sunderland side as they clashed swords in a feisty local derby.
Second-placed Newcastle fancied themselves coming into the game, but they were matched up against a Sunderland side that were buoyed by a victory against a strong Sheffield 2nds team last week. Likewise, Newcastle were playing off the back of a victory against last-placed Huddersfield, as they looked to regain the ground they lost when they were defeated by current leaders Leeds 2nds a fortnight ago.
“Captain Charlie Williams claimed that the game would be won based on defence, so discipline was crucial if they were to emerge victorious”
Knights’ tactics were simple. Instead of defending zonally, they were to man-mark to limit the opposition’s opportunities. Captain Charlie Williams claimed that the game would be won based on defence, so discipline was crucial if they were to emerge victorious.
Although they lost the tip off, Newcastle had the better of the opening exchanges. Matt Snelling, Josh Szymanis and the numberless Chris Burnand all had opportunities to open the scoring, but it was Sunderland’s Lok Law who broke the deadlock.
Not a minute after, Knights responded as Derick Ho drew the team level. Moments later Burnand finished off a coast to coast to pull the team ahead. They were also unlucky not to extend their lead further after the team turned over possession and Ho came agonisingly close with a three-point effort.
“Gong and Szymanis then added another two points each for their respective teams”
Sunderland should have levelled the score shortly after, however Zhenyoo Gong was unable to convert his free throws after a Szymanis foul. He rectified this error however with a two-point throw from distance not long after.
Newcastle then took the lead again after a Williams interception led to a Szymanis jump shot. Both Gong and Szymanis then added another two points each for their respective teams, whilst Levente Borenich replaced Snelling. His first involvement was to set up Szymanis to score another two points.
Both teams converted their free throws in the following exchanges. Ho then threaded a pass through to Burnand to extend Newcastle’s lead, and the same player scored seconds later. Having intercepted a sloppy pass, Ho then punished the opposition again on the counter. A time out was subsequently called by Sunderland to great effect, as Antonis Koutouzis scored two points before it was time for the interval, with the scores at 17-11 to Newcastle.
Newcastle made two changes at the break, with interim coach Jake Bradley replacing Ho and Szymanis with Alex Tuddenham and Torres Claras. Sunderland had the better start after the break, with interceptions from Torres Claras and Borenich preventing the opposition from clawing themselves back into contention.
To stop the team haemorrhaging points, Szymanis was brought back on. He managed to stem the tide by scoring a field goal and then feeding Tuddenham to add another two points.
The Canadian international Anthony “Get Money” Savoie was then introduced into the match. Proving his worth, he intercepted a Sunderland ball, then fed it into Tuddenham with his back to the basket. Guard Ho then collected it before laying it on to Savoie on the edge of the three-point line to hit a beauty of a shot.
This spurred the other Knights players on as Ho and Szymanis added points to the team’s total. Sunderland then called another timeout with Newcastle in the driving seat with a seven point lead.
Again, Newcastle had the better of the play after the restart, but struggled to capitalise on their dominance. Gong remained the biggest threat for Sunderland by continuing to chip in with occasional points but the Knights defence were doing well to mark him out of the game by putting him under pressure.
Although Tuddenham struggled with the free throws, he made up for it by scoring some vital points and making important interceptions. As the period drew to a close, Ho netted two throws after a mazy run and Denis Prodanov denied Gong an opportunity to add to his tally.
Bradley claimed that the half-time score of 33-25 was due to defensive lapses and bad offensive luck. If the team emphasised the 2-2-1 structure and ensured that Gong was man-marked then the team would comfortably win.
Tactically, Newcastle started the third quarter brilliantly. Sunderland were denied again and again, namely by Daniel Casado Serra, Szymanis and Torres Claras. Torres Claras himself scored the first points since the restart, swiftly followed by Burnand.
At this point, the Knights slackened their defensive grip on Gong, who scored consecutive two and three point shots. Fortunately Sunderland’s Jordan Williamson struggled when given three free throws, however Newcastle were certainly under the cosh.
Enter “Get Money” Savoie. The big Canadian took it upon himself to man-mark Gong and to be the key to unlocking the Sunderland defence. Although perhaps not as fast as Ho, or as animated as Casado Serra, Savoie can boast style on the court. He elegantly set up Burnand whilst limiting Gong’s opportunities throughout the period.
As Gong’s involvement was limited, Law and Georgios Ntoumpakis stepped up to score points for Sunderland, whilst Ho and Burnand continued to increase Newcastle’s tally in the fiercely tight contest.
Newcastle went into the final quarter with a 45-38 lead and looking good. However Williamson and Koutouzis pulled the opposition ever closer. But once again Savoie came to the rescue with an aptly-timed three-pointer from the corner to give Knights some much needed breathing space.
As the game entered the closing stages, the play opened up. Ntoumpakis, Koutouzis and Gong put Sunderland within touching distance however another three-pointer, this time from Borenich, eased the pressure.
After a time out, Sunderland came out stronger scoring some vital points. Only a two-pointer from Borenich kept Newcastle in the lead as Sunderland called another time out with the score delicately poised at 57-56.
“once again Savoie came to the rescue with an aptly-timed three-pointer from the corner to give Knights some much needed breathing space”
With 14 seconds on the clock, and a minor scoring drama, the game was Newcastle’s to lose. As soon as the ref restarted play, Sunderland captain Mike Eagle fouled Casado Serra, causing the coach Sean Percival to call a final timeout with six seconds remaining.
The free throws were converted by Casado Serra, but immediately Sunderland’s forward Mateusz Sobolewski was fouled and he netted his two free throws to put the pressure right back on the Knights.
In the final three seconds, Borenich was unfairly blocked in the area and the referee decided it was worth two throws. Cool as a cucumber, the first was dispatched, and although the second wasn’t there was no time for Sunderland to hit back.
After the final whistle, the Newcastle bench were understandably animated after such a tight encounter. But they were worthy winners on the day, and frankly unlucky not to have had more of a flattering scoreline in their favour.