HOME debutant Nate Reinking stole the show to fire the Mersey Tigers into 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 the previous Friday night, and they were matched toe-to-toe in the opening half, before a blistering third-quarter display fired them in to a lead that they would never relinquish.
New signing Reinking contributed 39 points and ran the game, especially after the interval, much to the delight of Tigers’ head 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 last Wednesday evening, looked in good nick in the first quarter, as the two sides traded baskets.
Friday’s MVP 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 Ohio native 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 of the court.
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.”
THE Tigers won’t know their opponents in the BBL Cup Final until December 10 when the Cheshire Jets and Sheffield Sharks hook up for the second-leg of their semi-final clash. The teams are set to play the first-leg of their semi-final tomorrow night.
The Tigers themselves have a busy weekend ahead of them. On Saturday night they visit the Leicester Riders for a BBL Championship game (7.30pm).
They then entertain the Worcester Wolves at the Echo Arena on Sunday evening (6pm), again in the BBL Championship.