An MVP performance by Team Northumbria’s Malcolm Smith was more than enough to see the North East side over the line against Team Solent Kestrels 73-56.
Delighting the crowd with a stellar performance, the American showed a complete skill set from the perimeter as well as in the paint to finish with a 32 point, 15 point rebound double-double. Blayne Freckleton added 17 in support, including 3/4 from deep, and Stewart and Champion had 8. Jorge Ebanks led Solent in reply, but his 18 points were never going to be enough to keep up with Smith and Northumbria. American stand-out Marquis Mathis was quiet with 11 points and was one of multiple Kestrels that struggled from the floor.
A triumphant Team Northumbria - Mansoor Ahmed/Ahmed Photos
All tied up at 13-13 after the 1st, Northumbria used a solid 22-7 2nd quarter to stretch out to a significant lead they would never relinquish. The advantage reached double digits before the half was out and only briefly dropped below 10 late in the 3rd. When speaking after the game, Head Coach Marc Steutel needed just 1 word to sum up his feelings “Proud. I have such a hard-working group of people, they are just good quality people, the way they commit every single day and I’m proud and happy for them. They deserve this.”
Steutel was correct in his assertion as well, after his side’s exploits in the 2nd quarter they were well worth their victory. The game started evenly though with both teams feeling each other out before Jorge Ebanks started to put his stamp on proceedings. Doing well to work his way into the key, the former BBL guard took contact as he put the ball in from close before making no mistake with the and 1. It would prove to be a strong opening 10 minutes for Ebanks as he finished the quarter having scored 11 of Solent’s first 13 points. Fortunately for Northumbria, a Freckleton triple and a lovely low post fade away from Jack Preston helped keep the scores tied at 13 after 1.
The 2nd quarter was where the game was decided. Good work down low from Marquis Mathis gave the first 2 points of the quarter to the Kestrels but after that Northumbria took control thanks largely to Smith. Using multiple offensive rebounds to spark their scoring, Northumbria pulled off a 10-0 run including 6 from the American forward. Louie Kirkman stopped the drought for Solent but Smith had an instant reply, sinking a smooth mid-range jumper to ensure that his side kept their lead exactly where it was.
Malcolm Smith was a clear choice for MVP - Mansoor Ahmed/Ahmed Photos
Collecting his 5th offensive rebound in the game before another close range finish, Smith’s continued efforts saw the score move to 31-18. The rebound gave the MVP a double-double in the contest before 17 minutes had been played. With just enough time left to draw up a slick inbounds play, the North East side scored the final points of the half and went into the break up 35-20. With Smith upping his game, Ebanks had done the opposite as he was kept out of the scoring for the entire quarter. Without his input and with Mathis being tightly guarded, Solent’s offence had dried up.
Coming out of the break, the questions for the Kestrels revolved around how to slow down Smith, and how they could generate consistent offence. The 3rd started badly as Mathis was immediately called for an offensive charge but that didn’t deter the side from making a run at getting back into the game. Going on an 8-3 streak led by point guard Caylin Raftopolous, the lead got down to 10 as both sides then began to trade buckets. Kept quiet for a bit too long, it was time once again for Smith to have his say, driving and finishing under contact once more before dispatching the foul shot. Unwilling to buckle, Solent answered right back with good low post work from Mathis to score before dropping an and-1 of his own.
With the lead beginning to shrink, the vocal Kestral supporters did everything they could to get behind their side. That soon ceased though as Blayne Freckleton landed a deep 3 from the top of the arc for Northumbria before a beautiful assist by Lewis Champion left Siman Stewart all alone next to the basket to put the lead right back at 15. Unwilling to let their efforts go to waste, Louie Kirkman grabbed offensive boards from misses by Ebanks on back to back plays and after a further stop and a score the Kestrels had the lead back to single digits. That was as close as things would get though, Northumbria added 2 more to leave the score at 55-44 with 10 minutes to go.
Lewis Champion paced the Northumbria offence with 6 assists - Mansoor Ahmed/Ahmed Photos
As the quarter began, Ebanks was doing everything he could to fire up his team mates but it wasn’t to be. Needing to get the period off to a hot start, it was Northumbria who started the brighter of the two as Freckleton once again popped up with a deep ball. He added a further long range 2 before Smith added 2 more and a 7-0 run had seen the game put beyond doubt. After that tempers began to fray and Solent’s Peter Zagarov was shown to the bench after his 5th foul. Unfazed, Smith produced a commanding block with 3:45 left in the quarter, providing a vivid representation that the game well and truly belonged to Northumbria. The new champions had just proven too much for the Kestrels on a day when little had gone right for the club across the 2 games.