THIRTEEN proved a lucky number for the Cheshire Jets against Newcastle Eagles as their 13-point home defeat on Sunday could have been a lot more.
In the opening quarter they were torn open by the three-point shooting of Andrew Thompson, who gave head coach Fabulous Flournoy an amazing platform on which to build another victory for the BBL Championship leaders.
But in the final quarter the Jets came back at their visitors, giving them a small reminder that when they apply themselves, the Northgate Arena outfit are a side everyone will want to avoid should they make the play-offs.
After trading doubles in the opening seconds, the game quickly saw a hailstorm of three-pointers break out.
First Andrew Thompson for the Eagles followed by Bill Cole for the Jets landed threes. Wide open on the perimeter, Thompson again nailed a triple with Colin O’Reilly replying in kind before former Mersey Tiger Thompson began to dictate the game with sniper-like accuracy from downtown.
Despite keeping the scoreboard ticking over the Jets, featuring new signing Kai Williams – who also made a three on his debut - off the bench, found themselves trailing 36-20 at the end of the first quarter, Thompson responsible for 21 of those points for the Eagles.
The second period didn’t open how head coach John Lavery hoped as the Jets gave up two points to Fab Flournoy’s Eagles due to a goaltending call.
A putback dunk from Matt Schneck, following up an O’Reilly jump shot could have injected the impetus the home side needed but another Thompson triple put paid to those hopes.
Again, the Jets kept scoring and against another team on another day may have had the lead, but the Eagles from range were almost flawless, missing only four of 26 attempts outside the arc.
Even a rare three free throw play from Cole was not enough to counter the Eagles, as he made two of the three shots and by half time the visitors had stretched their advantage to 22 points at 66-42, leaving Lavery needing to deliver something special in his team talk during the interval to spark a recovery from his side.
Unfortunately the Jets were slow out of the blocks again as Eagles player-coach Flournoy and Darius Defoe extended their lead with the first scores of the third quarter.
Bill Cole broke up a scoring run for the Eagles which included a goaltending call against Matt Schneck which looked harsh at first glance.
The Eagles tightened their grip on the game with a nine-point run that gave them an 82-46 lead and by the end of the period the Jets were staring down the barrel of a major blow-out trailing 87-53.
Frustrated by the day’s events, Lavery told his men to forget what had happened earlier in the game and go out to win the final quarter.
And win it they did. They pressured the Eagles and forced them to make mistakes. This was the gameplan that should have been executed from the start as they won the final session 29-8.
Shots were dropping and the home side were getting right in the faces of their opponents to force errors and rushed shots.
The Eagles could not cope and Flournoy was getting more and more worked up as the Jets closed the gap and at one stage had the crowd wondering if a huge comeback was actually possible.
Alas it wasn’t as the Jets were left to rue their poor start and take solace in small positives, like the fact Andrew Thompson, who by the first time-out in the second period had 24 points, ended the game with 29.
For the Jets Bill Cole pocketed a double double with 26 points and 12 rebounds and although in the paint Matt Schneck's scoring was down he also made a double-double with 10pts and 14 rebounds, Colin O’Reilly narrowly missing out with 18 points and nine off the boards and Adam Brown, who led the fourth quarter fightback, appearing on the scoresheet with 17 points.
After the game John Lavery's feelings about the performance were in little doubt.
“I was shocked at the way the guys let the game get away from them,” he said. “We just didn’t show at all.
“I thought we were poor in the first quarter and it just snowballed after that. There was no intensity out there, there was no desire to stop anybody, Those guys could get whatever they wanted, especially in the first quarter, we just didn’t play any defence whatsoever.
“If it wasn’t going to be Thompson it would be someone else, we just didn’t show up at all on the defensive end.
“You take a positive note from the fourth quarter. I told them to come out and play for pride and they came out and won the fourth quarter but it’s just not good enough.
“People have got to turn up week-in, week-out and put in a performance for 40 minutes, not just for 10 minutes but that’s what happened today. It wasn’t one person, it wasn’t two it was a group of people who didn’t turn up to play at all.
“It wasn’t the fightback I was disappointed in it was the way we started the game. We lost the game by 13 but that was a 40 or 50 point loss for us without a shadow of a doubt.”
With the arrival of Kai Williams 24 hours earlier Lavery said he hoped the new competition for a starting place would focus the minds of his players.
“The more guys you’ve got in the rotation the harder it is for a player to make sure they get as many minutes on court so it is going to help us but he’s only just come in so we’ve got to get him a full week of practice and see what happens.”