Nix lose 96-87 on the night but win 191-187 on aggregate to set up a semi-final showdown with Leicester Riders
Cheshire Phoenix are two games away from a possible final appearance at the O2 Arena in London next month after they booked their place in the BBL Play-Off semi-final last night, despite going down 96-87 at home to Newcastle Eagles.
In front of a bumper crowd at the Cheshire Oaks Arena, the Nix held their nerve late on to cause the shock of the season, dumping out last year’s treble winners and Play-Off holders Newcastle 191-187 on aggregate.
A stunning 104-91 success at Newcastle on Friday night gave the Nix a 13-point advantage going into the tie and they had looked comfortable when they led by 20 points on aggregate at the end of the first quarter, but the Eagles stormed all the back and took the lead when Charles Smith’s three made it 77-91 inside the final two minutes.
However, Cheshire were able to hold on by keeping their nerve at the free throw line to ice the overall victory and set up a last four showdown with Leicester Riders, with the home leg at the Cheshire Oaks Arena on Saturday (7.30pm) before a trip to Leicester on Sunday.
Cheshire head coach John Lavery said: “There is a bit of mixed feeling as our focus was to win both games this weekend. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get the win here tonight (Sunday).
“But the guys have done fantastically well to get us over the line and we now have a semi-final to look forward to against what is a very tough Leicester Riders team.
“Newcastle had (Andy) Thomson and Scott Martin out but they had to play our kind of basketball. We have had a short rotation all year and I think that when you talk about budgets then two of their players would probably swallow up our budget. To do what the guys have done so far is phenomenal but we aren’t finished just yet.”
League MVP candidate Kinu Rochford led the way with 27 points and 10 rebounds, while the Eagles had a combined 60 points from Smith and Darius Defoe, who racked up 34 points as the comeback effort came up just short.
The defending Play-Off champions were once again without starting duo Martin and Thomson and found themselves in a 20-point hole as they trailed 33-26 after the opening period. Newcastle turned it around in the second to lead by four on the night at half-time to keep their hopes alive.
Back-to-back triples from David Aliu, who made a telling contribution off the bench, tied the game at 58-58 in the third, and his side were able to edge ahead by one by the end of the period to extend their aggregate cushion to 14 points ahead of the final quarter.
An 8-2 start to the fourth was soon followed by a 10-0 run to close within a single point in the tie. Smith went one-of-two from the free throw line before netting a big three to fire Newcastle ahead on aggregate.
Cheshire quickly regained their composure with a quick score from Rochford and after Fab Flournoy split a pair of free throws, overtime beckoned with less than 20 seconds remaining.
However, clutch free throws from Akeem Ellis followed by an important steal from Quincy Taylor allowed the home side to wrap up the victory and seal their spot in the semi-finals.
Match Report from Chester Chronicle