by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix sealed their place in the BBL Trophy Semi-Final after a double-overtime victory over the Glasgow Rocks.
Phoenix’s opponents left the building with their tail between their legs as the Nix triumphed in an instant classic at the Emirates Arena. Ben Thomas’ side defied all odds as they rallied through the arduous overtime periods with just six men able to contribute after Parker Jackson-Cartwright fouled out late in regulation.
Cheshire showed great heart, resilience, and determination during the marathon game. They were relentless in their pursuit of a road win against the Rocks. Ben Mockford paved the way with a 30-point outburst. Demonte Flannigan had himself another solid game, as he tallied 19 points on an efficient 53% FG shooting.
The Nix got off to a flying start as they connected on their first seven shots of the game, which gave them an early seven-point lead. Phoenix were on fire offensively, however, they weren’t at their best on the defensive end, as the Rocks were able to get to their spots easily. When presented with numerous scoring opportunities, Glasgow made Cheshire pay for their mistakes. The Rocks earned their first lead of the game at the 1:28 mark, following a 2-point basket from Ali Fraser. The home side went into the second quarter up 24-23 on the visitors.
Glasgow opened the second period of play with a three-point basket by Fraser Malcolm. The Nix answered back shortly after with a 4-0 run conducted by Mockford and Michael Ochereobia. The Rocks extended the gap to six after Jonny Bunyan managed to drain back-to-back three-pointers. The hosts managed to keep their opponents at bay for the majority of the quarter, as the Nix weren’t able to embark on any sustained runs once the Rocks gained control of the game. Glasgow failed to score during the last two minutes of the half, however, they still went into the locker room up 42-35.
Mockford’s mid-range jumper gave Phoenix their first points of the second half. Dante Thorpe replied with a driving lay-up at the 9:04 mark. Jackson-Cartwright’s five-point scoring surge trimmed Phoenix’s deficit to just three points with six minutes left in the third. Mockford tied the game at the 2:50 mark after he converted his three-point play at the free-throw line. The two sides traded baskets during the last two minutes of the penultimate quarter, with the Nix slightly edging the battle, 5-4. The two teams couldn’t be separated going into the final quarter, as they amassed 56 points apiece.
Mockford scored six of Cheshire’s first 10 points at the start of the fourth. Phoenix found themselves ahead by five points with over six minutes left in the game. Cheshire did a great job on both ends of the floor as they made crucial baskets and secured multiple defensive stops during the midway point of the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for the visitors, Jackson-Cartwright fouled out with just three minutes left in the game. The Nix looked like they’d sealed qualification into the semi-final, however, a late steal by Greg Pryor concluded with the Glasgow point guard converting an ‘and-one’ play. Mockford had the chance to win it at the buzzer, however, the Phoenix shooting-guard missed a corner three which meant the game went into overtime.
Thorpe gave the hosts their first lead in the overtime period after he made a tough lay-up in transition. The Nix recovered well and the two sides found themselves level at 77 points apiece with 1:44 left in overtime. After an insane ending to the initial five added minutes, neither side could find any separation, which meant a second overtime period was required to split the two teams.
Thorpe put his team up by three at the start of the second period of overtime but Lufadeju’s two makes from the line reduced Glasgow lead to one-point. Phoenix struggled on the glass, which meant their opponents benefitted from countless second-chance opportunities. A brilliant sequence during the last 29 seconds of the game meant that Cheshire secured their place in the Semi-Final of the Trophy. It all started with Flannigan, who drew a huge offensive foul with the score tied, 90-90 and just 28 seconds left on the clock. Phoenix had the final possession and they executed it perfectly, having wasted two previous opportunities of closing out the game. Louis Sayers found some separation and attempted to win the nail-biting fixture with a three-point shot, however, his attempt rimmed out. Ochereobia was in the right place at the right time and he managed to grab the offensive rebound. The center tipped in Sayers’ miss and gave the Rocks no time for a reply, which meant the Nix emerged victorious 92-90.
KEY TEAM STAT: 52% FG. The Nix needed to have a good shooting night against a Rocks side which doesn’t allow teams many second-chance opportunities. The efficient performance helped Cheshire secure the marginal victory in Glasgow.