Basketball: Eagles' wide-eyed innocents develop the killer touch

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The Independent Online
The look of wide-eyed innocence and surprise Newcastle Eagles have displayed during their two-month unbeaten run should be wearing thin with the opposition by now.

Already joint second in the Budweiser League, Saturday's 95-86 victory at the National Indoor Arena silenced nearly 7,000 Birmingham Bullets fans to earn a semi-final place in the League Trophy by 165-152 on aggregate.

"It's new and exciting for us," said Newcastle's floppy-haired, bearded American coach Craig Lynch. A passable `Grizzly Adams', he first appeared in England 22 years ago and has played or coached at seven clubs.

Two of Eagles' last three League wins were at London Towers, who they now meet again in the semi-finals of the Trophy. The other semi pits Greater London Leopards against Sheffield Sharks, who knocked Towers from the top of the League with last night's 99-85 victory at Sheffield Arena.

Lynch said: "I think we've surprised people how far we've extended this run, but now the season is unfolding before us."

Eagles took just a four-point first-leg lead to the NIA, but after Reggie Kirk's free throws put Birmingham 9-4 ahead they never led again on aggregate.

"That was the difference," said Bullets' coach, Mike Finger, whose team went top of the table last night by virtue of Towers' defeat at Sheffield. "We never had control and Newcastle always did."

Finger criticised his players' attitude for the game, played 24 hours after they defeated Thames Valley Tigers 81-73 in the League.

He said: "The players made tiredness a factor against Newcastle. We had no spark or energy in the first half." Newcastle outscored them 12-0 in three minutes to lead 52-41 at the interval.

Last night Sharks inflicted London's third League defeat in four games, inspired by Mark Robinson's 33 points and 27 from England international John Amaechi.