With a chance to remain unbeaten 7 games into the season, Team Newcastle had extra incentive to maintain their unbeaten streak when they faced league and city rivals Northumbria 2s for the second time this season in the BUCS Northern 1A league.
In the earlier encounter in late October, the Poly received an early season beating, going down 86-64. However, they were out for revenge in the hope of limiting Uni’s lead going into the winter break, and preventing Newcastle from taking the division title.
In spite of the fact Poly faced an injury-stricken Uni side, Newcastle managed to outclass their opponents, taking the victory 98-64. They put to rest any doubt that the division trophy would take its rightful place in the sports centre trophy cabinet come the end of the season.
Coach Ian Hewitt saw some positives in his side’s defensive effort, but was left wanting more from his troops overall. “I thought it was a poor performance. Defensively we fought well, but offensively we just couldn’t get into our rhythm. We didn’t look mentally ready for the pressure they put us under. I’ve got to mention that we had 3 point guards injured. Luckily we’ve got a rest until after Christmas, so that’s a positive.”
Immediately from the tip-off, Newcastle, clad all in white, went up on the board early with a blaze of points from Robbie Lemons. After driving to the basket to card the first score of the game, Lemons maintained his early assault on the Northumbrian defence with a long range 3 pointer to put Uni up 5-0.
“They put to rest any doubt that the division trophy would take its rightful place in the sports centre trophy cabinet come the end of the season”
The ex-guard for the Stanford Cardinal team in California got off to a flyer, blocking a Northumbrian 3-point attempt, and following it up by immediately drawing a foul from the Poly team. The American went on a rampage in the first quarter, recording 15 of Newcastle’s first 24 points.
With the help of Charlie Wallrapp, Uni went on a brief early scoring spree, getting ahead before Northumbria had a chance to catch their breath. Alongside number 23 Tayo Oyefusi, Wallrapp controlled the pace of the first period, ensuring the Uni side sought to strike quickly off the fast break after having forced a Poly turnover.
But Newcastle wasted a number of these opportunities, awarding Northumbria easy possession. With 2 minutes to go in the first quarter, 3rd year law student George Beard entered the fray and provided another powerful attacking threat to complement the efforts of Lemons.
The number 8 sunk a perfect 3-pointer to extend the Newcastle lead to 26-10 entering the 2nd quarter. In spite of the lead, Coach Ian Hewitt unleashed a scathing team talk, and made 3 changes in an attempt to boost the side’s offensive firepower. But an injury not long before the break provided a blow to Hewitt’s plans, as number 9 Apagatidis hit the court with a nasty ankle injury.
“The American went on a rampage in the first quarter, recording 15 of Newcastle’s first 24 points”
At the beginning of the second half, 59-30 up, Team Newcastle went out to blast away their opponents long before the final buzzer, starting Wallrapp, Lemons, Beard, Nathan Ensz, and Chuck Duru. The quintet worked solidly together and with 8 to go in the 3rd quarter, the match was already out of reach for the Poly team, down 61-37.
Newcastle then suffered their biggest loss, as Robbie Lemons went down with another ankle injury. But the guard was quick to downplay its significance. “I rolled my ankle two weeks ago in practice, and I just re-rolled it tonight. I was taped up, so it definitely wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We’ve a big game this weekend as well, and I think I should be ready provided I take a day or two off.”
With so many key players out, Team Newcastle managed their losses well, preventing Northumbria from making any headway on the lead that had been built up. The veteran number 8 George Beard, awarded MVP by Coach Hewitt, was outstanding throughout, providing the calming presence needed to manage the final minutes.
“I thought he did an excellent job taking over the point guard position” explained the Coach. “But he also nailed some crucial shots when we needed them most.” Beard was ruthless in his 3-point shooting, pegging back any progress made by Poly. In moments where the Uni’s attacking plays had been stifled, the law student was selective in the shots he decided to take, and clinical in his execution.
“The veteran number 8 George Beard was outstanding throughout, providing the calming presence needed to manage the final minutes”
He emphasised the impact injuries have had on the Knights’ season to this point. “In preseason we started with a squad of 15, and in certain games we’ve only had 7 players. So this was actually a pretty healthy squad in comparison. Unfortunately, it’s all our point guards that are hurt. So we just haven’t had any luck in that respect. Still, that’s the last game in BUCS for 2015, we’ve pretty much sealed the league title tonight.”
Topping their division will mean Team Newcastle has an opportunity to play for a place in the Premier Division. But for Coach Hewitt, the team has to focus on it sole aim for the remainder of the season. “Stay unbeaten. I don’t think there’s anyone in this league that should beat us.”
Next week the men’s 1sts face UCLAN at home, a game which could see them win the league if they remain unbeaten.