Worcester Wolves 111 Newcastle Eagles 94

WORCESTER Wolves fell agonisingly short of reaching the British Basketball League play-off final at London’s O2 Arena.

A pulsating 111-94 overtime win over Newcastle Eagles last night meant Wolves lost out by just 199-197 on aggregate as they roared back from a disappointing 105-86 first-leg defeat in the north-east on Wednesday.

By half-time Worcester led 54-45 thereby pulling back nearly half of the away-leg deficit.

Approaching the final minutes the deficit had been fully erased with Wolves on the verge of victory before Eagles called on the experience that has taken them to numerous championship finals to force overtime.

In the dying seconds of the extra period the combatants were once more tied on aggregate before Newcastle ultimately drew last blood.

With head coach Paul James unavailable assistant coaches Alex Radu and Danny Magee were joined on the sidelines by Alejandro Vaquero, the University of Worcester’s basketball academic from Leon.

Radu said: “What a magnificent display. Everyone was really switched on for what we needed to do in order to overturn a massive 19-point deficit against a Newcastle side that have been one of the league’s premier teams for many years.

“We showed what can be done by sticking to a game-plan. But for a tiny bit more concentration we would have pulled off a tremendous comeback.

“Everyone is obviously disappointed but ultimately we paid the price for letting ourselves down in the first leg.”

As fans entered the University of Worcester Arena they were handed three-point cards to brandish whenever Wolves connected from long-distance.

Within the first 20 seconds a capacity crowd were already waving the cards high in the air as Danny Huffor set the scoreboard ticking.

Maurice Walker soon set up camp close to the Newcastle basket to push his way to a quartet of scores.

His fifth score moved Wolves 33-32 ahead as the second quarter began.

Forward Scott Martin was the early feature for the visitors with an impressive 16 first-quarter points but swarming defence prevented him from adding to that total before half-time.

As the interval buzzer sounded ex-Worcester man Orlan Jackman found himself standing at the free-throw line being noisily heckled by his former supporters into missing a double of foul shots.

Alex Navajas opened the second-half scoring and then blocked a Newcastle attempt.

Trevor Setty and Jermel Kennedy settled into an offensive groove as Wolves’ fans began to believe it was possible the big first-leg deficit could be erased.

Just before the third period expired Ashton Khan lofted up a three-pointer as he fell backwards.

When the ball dropped through the hoop to extend the lead to 83-69 the home crowd leapt to their feet in celebration.

By midway through the last quarter Worcester had finally erased their arrears after another Walker score put matters at 94-74.

At 44 seconds to go a Rahmon Fletcher basket levelled the aggregate scores at 103-84.

Both sides missed chances to settle the tie, leading to five minutes of added time.

It took nearly three minutes for Wolves to add to their total. In the meantime Eagles began to edge away.

But Marek Klassen’s only score from the field over the whole evening once more brought the sides together at 111-92.

With just four seconds remaining Huffor was whistled for a foul on Fletcher.

The Newcastle guard held his nerve to convert both resultant free throws.

Speedster Khan was the player handed the task of racing from one end of the court to the other.

As he drew near the Eagles baseline he was forced to heave up an off-balance shot, surrounded by defenders.

When it fell short Wolves’ dogged efforts to atone for their first-leg failings were finally over.

Walker signed off his season with an imposing return of 26 points and 17 rebounds.

Kennedy hit 19 points followed by Setty and Khan tallying 16 and 15 respectively.

Huffor and Navajas rounded out the double-figure scorers with 11 apiece.

Fletcher and Martin both tallied 28 to lead the way for Eagles.

“It’s been a strange season,” added Radu. “After the first half of the year we were not even in a play-off position.

"After that it was a totally different story. We got something out of the season to put ourselves just one basket away from reaching the play-off final.

“The second leg proved Worcester have the best venue and the best fans in the country.

"On behalf of everyone I want to say sorry we couldn’t quite do enough to reward our supporters with a trip to the final.”