by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix’s 5-game winning streak came to an end following a 7-point defeat on the road against the Newcastle Eagles.
The hosts came into the building without their second-best scorer — Justin Gordon — for the fifth consecutive game, however they got off to a scorching-hot start and created a seven-point separation for themselves by the end of the first quarter. The Nix reacted brilliantly and won the second frame 19-to-10, which meant they had a fragile two-point lead at halftime. The two teams went into the final quarter all square after the Eagles managed to win the penultimate stanza by two points. The Eagles captured their 11th win of the season and secured the head-to-head against the Phoenix after they outscored the visitors by seven points in the decisive quarter.
The Nix did not help themselves at all in the clash against Ian MacLeod’s side, as they missed 11 of 20 attempts from the charity stripe and also misfired on 14 of 16 shots from behind the arc. Cheshire entered the game averaging the fewest turnovers per contest (9.1), however they committed a season-high 17 turnovers and allowed Newcastle to score 19 points from those errors. The Nix struggled to defend the perimeter and allowed Newcastle to convert 50% of their attempts (8-16 3PT) from distance.
Phoenix’s best spell of the game came in the second quarter, when they embarked on the most dominant run of the night (12-0) and held the third best offense in the league to just 10 points. Unfortunately, Ben Thomas’ men failed to sustain their performance in the second half and suffered their first defeat in the BBL Championship since January 20th.
Four of Newcastle’s starters finished in double-digit scoring, however it was Evan Maxwell who paved the way with a game-high 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
Rahmon Fletcher notched a 14-point, 10-assist double-double, while former Phoenix fan-favourite Louis Sayers supplied his team with 13 points on 42% shooting from deep, off the bench.
Kahron Ross added another stellar game to his Cheshire Phoenix résumé, as he finished with 19 points (8-12 FG), four rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals.
Jalen Hayes clinched his fourth consecutive double-double in the regular season with a 10-point, 10-rebound performance, to which he also added two assists.
Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Mike McCall Jr combined for 31 points (13-25 FG), eight rebounds, three assists and two steals off the bench.
Maxwell propelled the hosts into a 7-0 lead and forced coach Thomas into his first time-out of the night at the 8:45 mark. The Nix regrouped and Ross initiated a solo 4-0 run to bring the deficit down to three at the 7-minute mark. The Eagles countered through Cortez Edwards and Darius Defoe and pushed their advantage back up to seven at the mid-way point of the opening quarter. They maintained their lead until the end of the frame, thanks to baskets from Defoe, Fletcher, Maxwell and Edwards.
The Nix added three points through Bryan-Amaning, while the Eagles replied with a trey from Sayers in the first two minutes of the second quarter. The Geordies gained their first double-digit lead of the night at the 7:50 mark after Edwards converted a shot from three-point land before the visitors replied with a 4-0 burst to close the gap to six at the 5:34 mark. McCall added a couple of lay-ups while the Nix kept their opponents scoreless, which meant that Cheshire trailed by two with just over three minutes remaining in the first half. Hayes levelled the game at 30 points apiece with a lay-up in transition. McCall put his team on the high side for the first time, with a make from mid-range at the 2:02 mark. The hosts threatened to reduce Phoenix’s cushion before the interval however Thomas’ men preserved their slim two-point advantage until the end of the first half.
The Eagles outscored the Nix by 8-to-2 in the first four minutes of the second half and created a four-point separation for themselves with six minutes remaining in the third. Pharroh Gordon drilled Phoenix’s first three-pointer of the night at the 3:40 mark of the penultimate quarter, however Maxwell answered back immediately with a trey-ball of his own. Sehill Mouliom tied the game at 47 points apiece with an acrobatic and-one play at the 2:20 mark. The two teams traded buckets in equal measure in the final 120 seconds and went into the decisive quarter tied at 53 points apiece.
The hosts gained a six-point advantage in the first minute and a half of the fourth quarter, thanks to baskets from Maxwell, Sayers and Edwards. Their cushion was reduced to four, after MBA converted a lay-up at the 7:22 mark. Hayes then trimmed the deficit down to a single possession, with 6:14 on the clock. Jimbo Lull was called for an unsportsmanlike foul on Maxwell at the 3:06 mark. Newcastle’s center split his free-throws and then earned a couple more on the next possession after he baited MBA into his first foul of the game. The Eagles had a six-point lead with 2:56 remaining after Maxwell swished both of this attempts from the line. MacLeod’s side triumphed 80-73 at the final buzzer, after Thomas’ men missed three of their last five field goals and two of their last three attempts from the line.