by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix got off to a winning start in the BBL Championship against the Sheffield Sharks.
The Nix put on a show on Sky Sports as they played sumptuous team basketball all night long and tallied 28 assists on 33 made field-goals with every starter finishing the game in double-digit scoring.
Jimbo Lull had a stellar debut as he opened his Phoenix account with a 27-point (11-16 FG) outburst to which he also added eight boards, five dimes, and a block.
Kahron Ross orchestrated the offense, as he amassed 20 points on an almost flawless shooting performance (6-7 FG), and also dished out six assists whilst only committing two turnovers.
Jalen Hayes notched an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double to which he also added three assists, a block, and a steal.
Ben Thomas’ side was very accurate from the field (55% FG), 3-point distance (45% 3PT), and the charity stripe (84% FT), and they also won the rebounding battle 36-to-32.
Jeremy Hemsley led all Sheffield scorers with 21 points, but the Nix did a good job of restricting the rookie guard to just 41% shooting from the floor.
Ross almost turned the ball over at half-court in the opening 10 seconds of the game, but fortunately for the Nix, the point-guard recovered well before setting up Lull for his first BBL basket. A three-point bucket by Hayes put the Phoenix up 5-to-2 at the 8:19 mark however the Sharks replied instantly with a rapid 4-0 burst. Another three-point make, this time from Pharroh Gordon, paired with a lay-up in transition by Mike McCall Jr helped the Nix regain their lead at the 6:23 mark. McCall’s open three at the 4:32 mark capped off an 8-2 run by the Phoenix, which forced the Sharks into a time-out. Thomas’ side was marginally outscored during the closing three minutes of the quarter but still found themselves ahead after the first 10 minutes, 27-18.
The two teams just exchanged buckets at the start of the second stanza and Phoenix’s 9-point lead remained intact until the 6:51 mark when Nicholas Lewis knocked down a step-back three. Ross quickly reinstated Phoenix’s three-possession advantage with a bucket from 3-point land. Lull continued his brilliant start in Nix colours with a Tim Duncan-esque bank-shot, which increased Nix’s lead to double-digits with just over three minutes remaining in the first half. Hemsley replied by scoring five points in less than 40 seconds but Cheshire shut him down and kept Sheffield scoreless for the last two minutes while Lull and Ross combined for five points, sending Thomas’ team into the locker-room up, 47-37.
Hayes opened the second half with a corner three but yet again it was the rookie Hemsley who answered back with a three-point basket of his own. Lewis trimmed Phoenix’s lead down to seven after he connected on a three-point attempt at the 7:42 mark. Sheffield gained control of the game as they forced the Nix into tough shots and consequently obtained a number of consecutive stops on the defensive end. The Sharks turned defense into offense in the closing 180 seconds of the penultimate quarter, as they outscored the Nix 9-to-1 and went into the final frame trailing by just two points, 63-65.
Lewis started the fourth quarter with an and-one play which put the Sharks into the ascendancy for the first time since the opening quarter. The Nix stood their ground and replied through the Ross/Lull tandem which in turn helped the Nix find their rhythm once again, with around nine minutes left to play. Cheshire then embarked on a commanding 19-2 run which was capped off by McCall, who finished a tough lay-up in the congested Sheffield paint and then managed to sink a corner three to give the Nix a comfortable 14-point cushion with just over two minutes left in the game. Sheffield’s last-ditch efforts to claw back a win proved futile as the Nix showed their grit and resilience and kept the Sharks at bay for the remainder of the game. Thomas’ team headed back to Cheshire triumphant, 92-82.
KEY TEAM STAT: 28 AST. The Nix shared the rock well and played selfless basketball against the Sharks. In the end, their efforts paid off as they accumulated 28 assists to just 10 turnovers and obtained a much-needed win on national television!