Cheshire Phoenix returned to winning ways in the BBL Championship, with a rousing final quarter display to see off Worcester Wolves 94-85 on Sunday night at the Cheshire Oaks Arena.
Coming in off the back a close victory away to Leeds Force in the first round of the BBL Trophy on Thursday night, hopes were high of delivering the first home win of 2016.
John Lavery’s men took control early in the game, but sloppy turnovers allowed the visitors to stay in touch in the opening period (19-19).
Worcester, playing less than 24 hours after an overtime victory in the Trophy against Bristol Flyers, initially struggled to handle the defensive pressure in the second quarter, with Danny Huffor firing on all cylinders for the Nix, helping stretch out to an 11-point lead at 39-28. However, the experience of Championship winning players in the Wolves’ line-up began to show and reduced the deficit to just four points at the break (43-39).
Paul James’ side rallied again after half-time and hauled themselves in front to a six-point lead during the third quarter, but the momentum shift swung again back in Cheshire’s favour and the crowd erupted when Akeem Ellis dialled in from beyond the perimeter to tie the game going into the final period (70-70).
It looked as if Wolves were about to have the last laugh pushing out to a five-point lead, before captain David Aliu made a vital three. Kinu Rochford and Ellis helped set the game alight, with both players making every effort for their shots to drop when it mattered most. If the first half had Huffor as the standout man, Rochford laid claim to that in the second as a 12-3 run to see out the game was underlined by a show-stopping dunk from Huffor as the clock ran down (94-85).
Rochford posted a game high double-double of 31 points and 14 rebounds, with outstanding contributions from Huffor (23pts/7rbs) and Ellis (22pts/7rbs).
Coach Lavery believed that if his side were in with a shout late in the game, that keeping focus was the priority to claim the win: “It was staying positive, we’d talked beforehand if we were still in the game going in at the start of the fourth, we had enough to talk them, but after turning the ball over early in the game, going down the stretch we took care of the ball and executed well. We had the right people in the right places to take the right shots which was very pleasing.
He went on to say: “We were down on the boards in the first half, we looked at that in the break, but we tied up with them in the end and when you think they are a big team it was great to level them on that, however it was a fantastic team effort, we stayed together we stayed positive and we got the W.”
MVP Kinu Rochford knew the importance of the team being a whole unit and working together with being so short-handed of late against a Worcester side full of experience: “We knew we didn’t have much depth off the bench, so we came together as a team. I spoke to my mother and my family before the game and we preach the idea of family a lot and keep together, whether it’s good or bad when we huddle up.
“We’re a family here, whether it’s the five guys on court, or as a whole team, including Coach Lavery and James Brice – everybody.”
Cheshire Phoenix also found out that their next opponents in the BBL Trophy Quarter-Final, to be played on the 24th January at Cheshire Oaks Arena, will be the Newcastle Eagles, after the reigning clean sweep champions progressed their last 16 game against Manchester Giants 91-75.