Cheshire Phoenix fall to Leicester Riders despite brave effort
Cheshire Phoenix put in one of their most fluid and determined performances of the season before cruelly being denied victory against high-flying Leicester Riders at the Cheshire Oaks Arena on Sunday night.
Coming into the clash on the back of two successive victories, the Nix put in a gutsy, well coached performance that bodes well for the rest of the BBL campaign, with the race for places in the post-season play-offs hotting up.
Facing a Leicester side, arguably the best in British basketball at present, sitting second in the league having lost just twice this season, in the hunt for the league title and boasting a deep rotation stacked with quality, even the most ardent Cheshire fan would have conceded pre-game that victory would be a tall order.
Rob Paternostro’s Riders opened up with a 5-0 run before Cheshire roared back and hit 10 unanswered points to take them to a 18-8 advantage, and they reached their biggest lead of the game, 11 points, when they went 20-9 in front. Riders rallied, though, but the Nix finished well to end the quarter well, with Akeem Ellis draining a deep three to push the hosts out to a 25-19 lead at the end of the first.
The Riders stormed ahead with a 20-5 spell across quarters, although some clinical three-point shooting from the excellent Ellis, combined with an all-action display from a hungry Kinu Rochford, ensured his side went into half-time with the lead, whilst taking his personal points tally to 18.
There was little to split between the two sides in the third with multiple lead changes, but Shane Walker gave Leicester a slender lead to take into the all-important final quarter. Cheshire levelled at 72, but never led in the fourth. Rochford made it a two-point game heading into the final two minutes and a large, vocal home crowd attempted to be the sixth man for Cheshire and lead them to an unlikely success that would have been richly deserved for their efforts.
But it wasn’t to be and Tyler Bernardini and Neil Watson netted dagger blows from beyond the arc to finally put the home side away.
Rochford had 26 points and 11 rebounds with Ellis finishing on 21 points while Watson had 25 for the Riders and Great Britain international Drew Sullivan contributed 16 points and 11 rebounds from the bench, passing the 4,000 career points mark in the BBL in the process.
Cheshire scorers: Kinu Rochford (26 points, 11 rebounds), Akeem Ellis (21 points, 3 assists), Quincy Taylor (12 points), Danny Huffor (11 points, 6 rebounds), David Aliu (7 points), Jeff Dirkin (5 points).