by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix sealed their place in the Quarter Final of the BBL Trophy with a comfortable victory over Hemel Storm at the EPSV.
The visitors kept it close in the first quarter and actually won the second half 34-to-29, however Phoenix did all the damage in the second quarter, when they pummelled Hemel 29-to-13.
Despite getting outscored by five in the second act of the night, Phoenix’s quality and experience prevailed as they found an answer every time Hemel made a run and ultimately clinched a 14-point win.
The Nix played stifling defence all night long as they held their opponents to just 32% shooting from the field and 25% from three-point territory. Cheshire paired their resilience on the defensive end with good execution on offense and in the end their efforts paid off as they secured qualification into the Quarter-Finals of the BBL Trophy for the sixth successive season.
Jalen Hayes paved the way for Cheshire with a 23-point, 13-rebound double-double.
Kahron Ross finished with 15 points, nine assists and four steals on 46% shooting from the floor, while Pharroh Gordon did a little bit of everything, as he chipped in with seven points, nine rebounds, six assists and finished with a game-high +26 plus/minus.
Sehill Mouliom matched his career-high 14 points and also added five rebounds and a steal.
On his Phoenix debut, Matthew Bryan-Amaning tallied 10 points and seven rebounds in just under 18 minutes on the court.
Greg Poleon scored a joint-game high 23 points and also grabbed 17 rebounds for Hemel, while sharpshooter Mike Williams supplied his team with 22 points on 41% shooting from deep.
Hayes scored Phoenix’s first points of the night as the Nix ran three of their first four plays through their captain. Levi Noel’s three at the 7:25 mark put the visitors in front for the first time, however Hayes replied with a three of his own on the next possession. Williams and Poleon then added two baskets and helped the visitors gain a four-point lead at the 6:25 mark, prompting coach Thomas into his first time-out. The Nix benefited from the break as they obtained multiple stops on defence and found themselves back in the ascendancy at the mid-way point of the quarter. The hosts outscored the visitors 4-to-2 in the final three minutes of the quarter and went into the second frame up 19-16.
The two sides traded blows to start off the second quarter and Cheshire’s slim 3-point advantage remained intact at the 7:30 mark. Mike McCall Jr managed to increase Phoenix’s cushion to six, after he converted an open three-point shot at the 7:07 mark. Baskets from Tayo Oyefusi and Poleon trimmed Cheshire’s lead down to two, before Thomas’ men went on 20-0 scoring avalanche in the final four minutes of the half, thanks to baskets from Hayes, Ross and Mouliom. Williams hit a buzzer-beating corner-three to stop the bleeding, however the Nix still went into the locker-room with a comfortable 48-29 lead.
Hayes opened the second half with an and-one play to put the Nix ahead by 22. Mouliom then threw down a ferocious dunk and increased Phoenix’s cushion to 24 at the 8:18 mark. The Frenchman then obtained an and-one play but failed to convert his complimentary free-throw. Oyefusi and Bode Adeluola connected on back-to-back triples, forcing the Nix into a time-out at the half-way point of the penultimate quarter, as their lead was reduced to 20. The visitors continued to chip away at the lead once play resumed and Phoenix’s advantage stood at 15 with three minutes left in the quarter. Phoenix’s lead was cut down to 10 with 1:13 left, but the back-court pairing of McCall Jr and Ross then drilled a couple of three-pointers in the final 60 seconds, giving the Nix a 16-point advantage heading into the fourth.
Bryan-Amaning scored Cheshire’s first bucket in the final quarter at the 8:32 mark. It was MBA who helped the Nix establish an 18-point lead with just 6:26 left on the clock. Phoenix embarked on a 4-0 run and created a 22-point gap, through Ross and MBA, however their lead was then quickly reduced to 19 at the 4-minute mark. The visitors tried their best in the final few minutes, however they never really looked capable of producing a miraculous turnaround. The two teams just traded buckets the rest of the way, meaning that Cheshire triumphed 77-63 and advanced through to the Quarter-Finals of the competition, where they will face off against the Glasgow Rocks.