by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix secured their fifth consecutive victory in the regular season and clinched the head-to-head against the Sharks with a 67-57 win at Ponds Forge.
The two sides couldn’t be separated after the first 10 minutes of the game and it was actually the guests who found themselves ahead by one at the interval. Cheshire were outscored in the third quarter yet again, however the Sharks only had a slim 3-point cushion heading into the final frame. The Nix annihilated their opponents in crunch time as they added 22 points, whilst restricting the hosts to only nine points on 20 shots.
Cheshire limited Sheffield to a below-par 34% shooting from the floor and an abysmal 25% from three-point land. The Sharks turned the ball over on 12 occasions and also made just half of their attempts from the free-throw line.
The Nix shot an eye-popping 41% from deep and also out-hustled their opponents as they tallied seven steals and eight blocks. Phoenix went to the line on 16 occasions and finished with a 75% conversion rate.
Kahron Ross led all scorers with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-4 from deep, and also chipped in with four rebounds, two assists, a pair of steals and a couple of blocks.
Jalen Hayes, who celebrated his 26th birthday and reached a landmark 1000 points in the BBL, finished with a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double to which he also added three blocks and two dimes.
Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Mike McCall Jr provided the Nix with a huge boost off the bench as they combined for 21 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and three steals. MBA finished with a game-high +13 plus/minus.
Antwon Lillard notched an 18-point, 12-rebound double-double while Jordan Ratinho clocked in the full 40 minutes and finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Lillard and Ratinho were the only Sheffield players who finished with double-digit points.
The Sharks got off to 6-2 start, thanks to a couple of makes from deep by Lillard and Ratinho. Jeremy Hemsley extended the lead to seven with a triple of his own at the 7-minute mark. The Nix replied with a furious 7-0 run and tied the scores at nine points apiece at the 5:27 mark. Ratinho splashed an open trey from the wing and pushed the Sharks ahead by three with three minutes left in the first frame. The Nix outscored the Sharks 6-to-3 in the closing minutes of the quarter and so the two sides went into the second frame level at 19-19.
Cheshire went scoreless until the 8:07 mark of the second stanza. McCall slashed through Sheffield’s defence and converted a lay-up to stop the drought. McCall gave the Nix their first lead of the night after he buried a three from the wing at the 6:29 mark. Sehill Mouliom’s acrobatic lay-up in transition pushed Phoenix’s lead to three, at the 4:42 mark. Hayes scored his 1000th point in the BBL with a hook shot at the 3:57 mark, however the hosts found themselves back on the high-side with just over two minutes remaining in the first half. The Nix added six points in the last 120 seconds, through Ross, Lull and Hayes, while the Sharks replied with four points from Mike Tuck and Lillard, however they weren’t enough to prevent the Nix from going into the break marginally ahead, 34-33.
The two teams failed to add a single bucket until the 7:56 mark of the third quarter, when Lillard finished a tough lay-up in transition to put the Sharks back in the ascendancy. Ross replied with a runner in the paint before Tuck answered back with a lay-up on the other end. Ross drilled a deep three-pointer at the 6:46 mark, which put the visitors ahead by two. The two sides found themselves all tied up at 40 points apiece at the mid-way point of the quarter. The Sharks performed slightly better in the last two minutes and went into the decisive quarter up 48-45.
Hayes opened the final frame with a three-ball which tied the game at 48 points apiece. Ross followed up with a tough make in the paint to put the Nix up by two, with 8:53 remaining. MBA then made two shots from the charity stripe and increased Phoenix’s advantage to four at the 8:10 mark. Lillard scored Sheffield’s first point in the fourth from the free-throw line, but the hosts found themselves down by four with just five minutes left on the clock. Hayes’ solo 4-0 surge increased Cheshire’s lead to eight with just four minutes remaining. Phoenix’s lead ballooned to double-digits at the 1:49 mark after Ross exploited his mismatch against Tuck and converted a lay-up without much resistance from Sheffield’s captain. The Nix left the building triumphant, 67-57, after both teams added three points each in the remaining seconds of the contest.