by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix ceded the season series against the Surrey Scorchers after they dropped the final meeting of the campaign 74-76 at the EPSV.
The visitors got off to a great start as they held a four-point advantage at the end of the first quarter, however Ben Thomas’ men outplayed the Scorchers in the second period and went into the break ahead by one point, despite making just 38% of their shots from the field. Third quarter woes plagued the Nix once again as they allowed the Scorchers to outscore them by 23-to-9 in the penultimate act. The game looked to be out of reach when Tony Hicks buried a clutch three-pointer to put his side up by eight with 42 seconds remaining, however the Nix went on a furious 7-0 run in just 30 seconds and earned themselves one last opportunity to snatch a priceless win over their play-off rivals. Phoenix sent Cameron Hildreth to the line, where he managed to split a pair of free-throws, leaving Cheshire with six seconds to find a three-point bucket. Unfortunately, the Nix came up empty on the last possession after Kyle Carey’s attempt from the corner was swatted away by Hildreth just as time expired.
As a team, the Nix converted just 38.5% of their attempts from the field, 27.8% from deep and 56.3% from the charity stripe, however they they hauled in 44 rebounds (23 offensive) and also assisted on 24 of their 30 made field-goals.
The Scorchers made up for their 13 turnovers by shooting 50% from the field, 36.4% from three-point territory and 75% from the free-throw line.
NBA draftee Ryan Richards tallied a game-high 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting and also chipped in with six rebounds and a couple of steals.
Hicks made 50% of his shots from deep and finished with 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds.
Jimbo Lull was Cheshire’s most effective player, as he finished with 15 points on 53.8% shooting and a team-high plus/minus of +11.
Kahron Ross accumulated 17 points (team-high), seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
Matthew Bryan-Amaning and Carey combined for 19 points, 11 rebounds and six assists off the bench, however the duo also missed 15 of their 23 attempts from the floor.
Phoenix captain Jalen Hayes and Scorchers sharpshooter Connor Cashaw both missed the game.
The game got off to a sloppy start as the two sides combined for 0-for-5 shooting from the floor before Lull finally got the Nix on the board with a long two-pointer at the 8:25 mark. Surrey obtained their first points of the night through Martelle Mclemore at the 7:38 mark. The visitors gained their first lead of the game at the 5:28 mark, thanks to a triple from Hicks. The two sides then exchanged leads in quick succession, however it was the guests who found themselves up by five with just over three minutes left in the first frame. Bryan-Amaning converted a hook-shot over Richards and Mike McCall Jr followed up with a spectacular four-point play, which put the Nix back in front, with 1:50 left in the quarter. The Scorchers outscored the Nix by 7-to-2 in the last two minutes and went into the second frame up 22-18.
Phoenix started the second stanza with a 5-0 run, which was eventually stopped by a Richards trey-ball. Cheshire pushed their advantage to four at the 5:42 mark and forced the Scorchers into a time-out. The Nix obtained four consecutive offensive rebounds and it was Lull who finally put the ball in the basket and extended the lead to six at the 4-minute mark. The guests then replied with a quick 6-0 run and tied the game at 31 points apiece, with 2:43 remaining in the first half. Richards nudged his team back in front with a fade-away jumper, however the Nix outscored the Scorchers by 6-to-4 in the final two minutes and went into the break up, 38-37.
The two teams just traded buckets in the first two minutes of the second half, however the Scorchers then obtained a couple of stops and created a five-point separation for themselves at the 7:30 mark. Mclemore knocked down a three-pointer and increased Surrey’s advantage to eight, before James Lacey converted a couple of free-throws to give the visitors the first double-digit lead of the contest. The Nix answered back with a 5-0 burst, which was finally stopped at the 3:49 mark by Hicks. The American floor-general ignited an 8-0 run by the Scorchers, which helped them establish a 13-point lead with 1:49 to go in the third quarter. The Nix failed to trim the deficit before the end of the quarter.
Surrey opened the final frame with a 4-0 run, however the Nix came right back with a zippy 7-0 burst and reduced the deficit to 10 at the 7:30 mark. The Scorchers recovered quickly and pushed their lead to 12 at the half-way point of the quarter. Ross’ triple brought Surrey’s lead down to nine with just over four minutes left in the game. Surrey’s captain — Tayo Ogedengbe — split his attempts from the line, before McCall buried another three-pointer, which reduced Surrey’s lead to seven. The Nix trailed by eight with just 42 seconds left on the clock, however Ross, McCall and Carey engineered a quick-fire 7-0 run for the home side and placed all the pressure on 18-year-old Hildreth in the final seconds of the game. Hildreth was fouled and consequently sent to the line by Carey. The British guard missed his first free-throw but swished the second, giving the Nix around six seconds to get a shot off at the other end of the court. Ross found Carey in position for a buzzer-beating, game-winning, corner-three, however Hildreth anticipated the play well and came up with a sensational game-saving block.