Home debutant Nate Reinking stole the show to fire Mersey Tigers in to the final of the BBL Cup as they overturned a first leg deficit to beat Newcastle.
The table-topping Tigers lost the opening tie 97-90 against their old adversaries on Friday night, and they were matched toe-to-toe in the first half, before a blistering third quarter display fired them in to a lead that they would never relinquish.
New signing Reinking contributed 37 points and ran the game, especially in the second half, to the delight of coach Tony Garbelotto.
He said: “I am really proud of how we played. I know we have that level, and I’m pleased we achieved that in the second half.
“As for Nate, that’s the difference he brings. We were a really good team without him, we’re a great team with him. We know that with him in the side, it gives us a bigger margin for error, as we showed coming back from the first leg deficit.”
The visiting Eagles, cheered on by a healthy travelling contingent at the Echo Arena, looked in good nick in the first quarter, as the two sides traded baskets. Friday’s man of the match Trey Moore looked in ominous form once again, linking up with Darius Defoe on a number of occasions early on.
Leading 26-24 after the first quarter, the Tigers couldn’t shake off the visitors and were still five points down on aggregate at the end of the first half.
But it was Garbelotto’s rousing half-time team talk that spurred the home side in to action, with Reinking at the forefront as they built up a 17 point advantage, building up a 16-3 run at one point, while frustrating the inspirational Moore at the other end.
Up by seven points on aggregate going in to the fourth quarter, the Tigers knew they had to keep the visitors at arm’s length, and they did that emphatically, with Andrew Sullivan and Andrew Thomson contributing healthy point returns as the Eagles tired.
Garbelotto added: “The first half was one of our worst halves of basketball all season because we were so tight. I just said relax and we did that. They didn’t believe in each other in the first half, but after half time, they willed themselves to win, and in the end it was a great win.”