Marc Steutel insisted his in-form roster fully deserved their place in next month’s NBL National Trophy final after Team Northumbria blew away the Magic in Manchester.
Rookie Atif Russell cast a spell over the homecourt club with a game high 37 points, 13 rebounds and four assists in a 91-74 rout.
However, Steutel pointed to TN’s total team basketball once the semi-final nerves had settled.
“We didn’t actually start too well and allowed Manchester to open up a decent lead in the first quarter,” said the experienced playcaller.
“Once we started keying in on defence the guys started to dominate and we won the last three quarters.
“Atif will grab the headlines and in all fairness he allowed us to change things up when we needed to.
“However, we had several players in double figures with Blayne [Freckleton], Malcolm [Smith] and Lewis [Champion] all scoring well.
“The guys really deserved their victory and we’re looking forward to the final against Team Solent next month.”
Russell’s impact follows a nine-month chase for the Houston-based star’s signature – stretching back to last April.
Steutel embarked on a Northumbria University scouting mission to the US last spring and immediately identified the versatile youngster as a potential NBL star.
Former Houston Baptist favourite Russell finally jetted into Tyneside in December and started a Master’s degree at Northumbria last week.
“I flew over to America last year and liked what I saw where Atif is concerned,” added Steutel. “It turns out he trains with Drew Lasker, of Newcastle Eagles, during the summer so there was a strong connection there.
“It’s great to have him here for the next two years. He’s made a superb start to his time with TN and we’re very excited for the future.”
With a Trophy final on the horizon it would be easy for TN to lose focus when it comes to defending their Division One title.
However, Steutel will not allow that to happen as the club prepares for this season’s toughest run of fixtures to date.
“We’re going to set the Trophy to one side for now and see what we can do in terms of Division One and BUCS,” he added.
“Our schedule for the next few weeks is pretty crazy with Wednesday and weekend matches every week for the foreseeable future.
“However, we’re quietly confident we can get through it. Nobody knows what’s going to happen in Division One – people were writing us off before Christmas but it’s still very tight at the top and we’re in the mix.
“The guys have been working so hard since Christmas and we’re in good shape heading into the second half of the season."