The Newcastle women’s basketball club has continued in their record-breaking ways this season. Last Wednesday, the club travelled down south and defeated the second-seeded team in the BUCS Premier South, London South Bank University to reach the BUCS National Semifinal for the first time.
Facing up against a very physical South Bank team, Newcastle had to push through adversity to claim victory in dramatic fashion. Despite being down by up to seven points in the second half, Newcastle remained poised and came back to win a closely contested game, 73-71.
Due to a number of questionable calls throughout the game, Newcastle starters Grace Elliott and Cassidy Sanders-Curry found themselves with four fouls with the final quarter left to play. One more foul from either of them would leave to disqualification from the game, and the Knights needed Elliott and Sanders-Curry on the floor against a frantic South Bank defence. Thankfully, the American duo played extremely smart defence and managed to play the remainder of the game without fouling and were instrumental down the final stretch to claim the win.
Newcastle had to push through adversity to claim victory in dramatic fashion
Offensively, the Knights struggled in spurts throughout the game and had to improvise. Despite having great ball movement for open looks, there seemed to be a lid on the basket at times and Newcastle shots just would not fall. Because South Bank was so physical Team Newcastle ditched their ususal offence and resorted to setting loads of screens. Grace Elliott had a tough job on the evening, as she had to guard South Bank’s best player (a talented WBBL center), as well as set screens for Newcastle guards almost every play. Her play, especially in the second half, helped the Knights move the ball when their jumpshots weren’t falling.
In addition to a solid contribution from Elliott, Sanders-Curry was hot from long range early in the game. She hit three after three. When the Knights made their fourth-quarter comeback, Sanders-Curry hit a huge shot to extend Newcastle’s lead and put them ahead for good. As point guard Courtney Strait came off a Grace Elliott screen, Sanders-Curry flashed open at the wing and hit down a crucial three pointer during crunch time with only a few minutes left in the game.
Speaking of crunch time…Amara Jackson was absolutely clutch for Team Newcastle. When South Bank was swarming on defence, Jackson shook her defender and cut to the basket for a wide open layup with one minute left in the game. After her layup, Team Newcastle got a stop on defence and South Bank had to resort to fouling to stop the clock. Unluckily for South Bank, they fouled Jackson, who has been a consistent freethrow shooter all season. She hit a free throw to put the lead up to two, and missed the second, forcing South Bank to get the rebound and force a full court heave as the clock expired.
The Knights must beat Northumbria on 14 March to reach the BUCS Final.
Similar to the women’s team, the Newcastle men had to trek south in their BUCS National quarterfinal. In their second straight quarterfinal appearance, Team Newcastle matched up against a formidable team from the University of East London. Coming in without two of their key scorers and without their coach, the Knights had to play big minutes against BBL players as well as an Olympian for Great Britain, to secure a five-point victory.
Newcastle starter Jack Beresford said it took a complete team effort from start to finish to beat East London, as the Knights faced a major height difference against their opponent. To accommodate for this, Team Newcastle displayed fantastic ball movement throughout the game to work their way around the lengthy players from East London and create scoring opportunities.
With a little over one minute to play, Newcastle retained a comfortable double-digit lead and were headed for what looked like a shoe-in to the semi-finals. But before the clock expired, East London had other plans. On three consecutive possessions the hosts hit acrobatic, contested three-pointers to tighten the score to a one-point lead for Newcastle.
With everything on the line, the Knights buckled down and finished when they most needed it. Consistent contributors Zach Leal, Patrick Wrencher and Joey Bennett converted on free throws to clinch the victory and seal their spot in the semi-final for the second straight year.
Newcastle’s Greek point guard Ioakeimidis earned Player of the Game Honours for maintaining a calm demeanour for Team Newcastle
Aside from keeping their cool, Team Newcastle were impressive in their defensive efforts, as well as their patience on the offensive end. Beresford, and all-around contributor Thanasis Ioakeimidis, helped to clamp the East London ball handlers and force contested attempts throughout the game. In addition Beresford noted that a few players were worthy of being named Player of the Game. Joey Bennett, a top scorer in the NBL Division 1 this season, was a frontrunner in scoring as he hit three early threes to start the game and posted a huge scoring effort for the Knights. Bennett’s strong outing was instrumental in the win, but Newcastle’s Greek point guard Ioakeimidis earned Player of the Game Honours for maintaining a calm demeanour for Team Newcastle. His ability to effectively manoeuvre past the defence, get to the basket and “run the show,” were instrumental in the Knights’ big win.
After the exciting victory, the Newcastle players jokingly led on Coach Ian Hewitt, telling him they had lost. After a few hours of banter (and stress on Coach Hewitts’ side), the squad revealed the news to their coach and celebrated a well-earned victory.
Knights now face first-seeded Loughborough Riders. Team Newcastle has claimed one win at Loughborough this year but fell in their home game. A victory on Wednesday, would take Team Newcastle will to the BUCS National Final for the first time in history.