North-East adventure ends 1-1 for Ipswich

Caleb Fuller had 57 points across the weekend's two games (Image: Pavel Kricka)

Team Newcastle University 104-91 Ipswich Basketball
National League Division II
Benfield School, Newcastle

Back-to-back wins in the North East were not to be for Ipswich Basketball, as they succumbed to a fourth quarter onslaught from Team Newcastle University to lose what had been a very close game.

Ipswich led by a slender four-point margin going into the final period, but struggled to connect on offense as the weekend’s work finally caught up with them. Then, with the hosts having got up by four with six minutes left, Newcastle drained four three-pointers in little over a minute to blow the game open.

“You have to credit their fourth quarter, all of a sudden we were playing a different team,” said Nick Drane. “We held them to 5-20 from three-point range in the first three quarters… then they started knocking them down like the Golden State Warriors.”

For much of the game this had looked like a repeat of Saturday’s encounter with Tees Valley Mohawks; an up-tempo affair with Ipswich getting out and scoring through Caleb Fuller, who had 20 points in the first half, Luke Mascall-Wright and Leigh Greenan.

Tom Sadler is fit again and ready to contribute (Image: Pavel Kricka)
Tom Sadler is fit again and ready to contribute for Ipswich (Image: Pavel Kricka)

But Newcastle have greater depth than their local rivals, and sweet-shooting centre Fran Urli gave Ipswich early problems even though they contained Newcastle’s leading scorers, Richard Austin and Romonn Nelson, until the final minutes.

Ipswich’s front line was boosted by the return from injury of captain Tom Sadler. Having played very limited minutes on Saturday as he makes his way back from surgery, Sadler was effective from the bench on Sunday and with 14 points, finished as Ipswich’s third-leading scorer.

The game was truly back-and-forth for the first 33 minutes, neither side opening up a double-digit gap until that sudden outburst from Newcastle’s perimeter attack.

Fuller finished with a game-high 29 points for Ipswich, followed by Mascall-Wright’s 20 and Sadler’s 14. Urli led Newcastle with 28 – on just ten shots – while Austin added 26 and Nelson 21.

“We are in a great place right now as a team. We have tweaked our style of play and it’s really worked,” said Drane on Sunday night. We played seven really good quarters of basketball this weekend. Newcastle are right up there with the best D2 teams we have played over the years and have every reason to feel confident about their early promotion ambitions. If we had played this way earlier in the season, with a fit bill of health, I have no doubt we would be heading into the Doncaster game with a 4-1 record.

“NBL Division Two is crazy. Its tough to figure this league out – the top teams are always the teams that just either came up from D3 or down from D1. Even our own best season at this level was when we had just had back-to-back promotions. We will keep plugging away, we have great chemistry and team spirit right now and I believe we have what it takes to build some momentum with five games in the next three weeks.”

Four of those games are at home for Ipswich, and with several of the top teams yet to play each other it’s far too early for anyone to be making any assumptions about this season.