by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix soared past bitter rivals Manchester Giants and captured their fourth victory of the season at the National Basketball Performance Centre.
The Nix put on a show in the opening 20 minutes as they erupted for a season-best 59 first-half points, however they lost their momentum after the break and allowed the Giants to outscore them 38-to-29 in the second half.
Cheshire led by as much as 29 in the first half, but the hosts ignited the biggest scoring run of the game (16-0) in the third quarter and eventually trimmed Phoenix’s lead down to single-digits at the beginning of the fourth. Ben Thomas’ side then got back into their groove and outscored the Giants 22-to-13 the rest of the way to earn themselves an 18-point victory.
While Phoenix’s shooting slump continued (40% FG + 21% 3PT), Thomas’ men played selfless team basketball as they assisted on 20 of their 33 makes from the floor and also took good care of the rock as they committed just four turnovers.
With Jimbo Lull out (sprained ankle) and Matthew Bryan-Amaning yet to arrive, the Nix played without any recognised bigs and consequently lost the rebounding battle 40-to-56.
The Nix played stifling defence all night long as they forced the Giants into 23 turnovers and also restricted the Mancunians to just 38% shooting from the floor and 27% from deep. Danny Byrne’s men got to the line on 23 occasions, but only converted 13 of those opportunities.
Four of Cheshire’s starters scored in double-digits, while Mike McCall Jr also supplied his team with 11 points off the bench.
Kahron Ross paved the way with a game-high 20 points, to which he also added five rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Phoenix’s captain, Jalen Hayes, found himself in early foul trouble but still tallied 19 points and two assists and was one rebound shy of a double-double in just 26 minutes on the court.
Kyle Carey clocked in just over 35 minutes (season-high) and recorded 15 points, five assists, three rebounds, three blocks, two steals and also finished with a game-leading +24 plus/minus.
French rookie Sehill Mouliom was handed his first start by coach Thomas and finished with 14 points (career-high), four rebounds and three assists.
Cheshire’s record now stands at 4-7.
Ross scored Phoenix’s first points of the night with a make from beyond the arc at the 8:53 mark. The Nix kept their opponents scoreless for the first two minutes, before Zach Powell’s and-one play gave the Giants their first points of the game. Cheshire opened up a 7-point gap at the 6:31 mark after they obtained multiple stops on defense and converted their good looks on offense. Phoenix’s lead was trimmed down to five at the half-way point of the opening quarter, however baskets from Mouliom, Ross and Hayes extended Cheshire’s lead to a then-game-high nine points at the 3-minute mark. The Nix gained their first double-digit lead of the night just 27 seconds later, through Carey. Thomas’ team went into the second quarter up 26-15.
The Nix opened the second frame with a 5-0 stretch, in which Hayes contributed with two makes from the stripe and Reiss Haggith with a corner three. The Giants replied quickly with an and-one play by Alex Ouandie. A three-pointer by Pharroh Gordon increased Cheshire’s lead to 16, before Donovan Marshall-Johnson replied with a corner three on the next possession. Mouliom extended Phoenix’s advantage to 20 at the 6:51 mark after he converted a spectacular four-point play. A dunk on the fast break by Carey increased Cheshire’s lead to 22 at the mid-way point of the quarter. It was Carey who scored Phoenix’s 50th point of the night at the 3:47 mark, while the Giants lagged behind with just 28. The Nix outscored the Mancunians 7-to-2 in the final three minutes of the half and went into the break up 59-32.
McCall, Gordon, Ross, Hayes, Carey and Mouliom all failed to connect on their attempts, meaning that Thomas’ side was kept scoreless for the first six and a half minutes of the third quarter, while the Giants added 16 points through Powell, Breaon Brady, Sam Cassell Jr, Marshall-Johnson and Ouandie. Hayes eventually stopped the drought at the 3:22 mark, after he made a tough shot in the congested Manchester paint. Phoenix’s captain helped his side establish a 16-point advantage after he scored his second bucket of the half at the 2:06 mark. Ouandie supplied his team with one more three-point bucket and Ross countered with a two-point make before the end of the third, which meant that Cheshire went into the final quarter up 66-51.
The Giants struck first in the fourth frame, through a mid-range make by Ouandie. Marshall-Johnson’s bucket at the 7:57 mark reduced Nix’s lead to 11, before Powell cut it down to single-digits at the 7:26 mark. The Nix needed a quick bucket and it was Carey who reinstated Phoenix’s double-digit advantage just 30 seconds after Powell’s make. Cheshire sat on a comfortable 17-cushion with just five minutes remaining. Thomas’ men never relinquished their lead as they just traded blows with their opponents until the final buzzer sounded and ran out triumphant, 88-70.