by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix claimed a superb 93-91 victory over the Leicester Riders after an intense encounter at the EPSV culminated with a game-winning buzzer-beater from Kahron Ross.
The league leaders created an early 10-point separation for themselves after the opening quarter, however the two sides went into the half-time break tied at 42 points apiece, after the Nix found their groove in the second frame. Cheshire were outscored yet again in the third quarter, however the Riders only worked themselves a brittle four-point cushion going into the final frame. The Nix opened the decisive quarter with a 13-to-2 run inside the first four minutes, however the visitors recovered well and pushed the Nix until the final possession. William Lee converted a pair of free-throws to put his side up by one, with just 6.5 seconds remaining. Jalen Hayes inbounded the ball to Mike McCall Jr, who then sprinted into Leicester’s paint before feeding Kahron Ross for the final shot of the night. Ross sealed another statement win for his team, as he buried a cold-blooded three-pointer right in Geno Crandall’s grill just as the game-clock hit zero.
As a team, the Nix shot 51.6% from the field, 50% from three-point territory and 80% from the free-throw line. Ben Thomas’ side won the rebounding battle 35-to-32 and out assisted their opponents by 17-to-14.
The Riders were very efficient too, as they converted 50% of their attempts from the field and three-point range, whilst also hitting 76.2% of their shots from the charity stripe, however they came up just short in the end.
Ross erupted for 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-7 from deep. Cheshire’s floor-general also tallied four rebounds, four assists, one steal, one block, and one buzzer-beating, game-winning bucket.
Hayes secured his fifth consecutive double-double, as he totalled 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists on 9-of-13 shooting, including 2-of-4 from behind the arc.
McCall contributed with 17 points, four assists and three rebounds off the bench, while Matthew Bryan-Amaning added an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double off the bench.
Crandall finished with 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals on 58.3% shooting, however the MVP candidate was forced into a game-high five turnovers.
Corey Johnson racked up 21 points on 5-of-6 shooting from three-point distance and committed precisely zero turnovers during the 27 minutes that he spent on the court.
Cheshire improved to 9-9 in the BBL Championship, while Leicester’s record slipped to 14-3, as Rob Paternostro’s side suffered back-to-back defeats for just the second time in the current campaign (all competitions).
The two teams scored six points each in the opening 180 seconds of the game. Ross made Phoenix’s first three-pointer of the night at the 6:03 mark, giving his team an early two-point advantage. The visitors responded with a 9-0 run which gave them a seven-point lead at the 4:12 mark. Hayes made it a four-point game with a swish from three-point land at the 2:19 mark. The Riders outscored the Nix by 8-to-2 in the closing minutes of the opening frame and went into the second quarter up 26-16.
Leicester opened the second stanza with a 5-0 run thanks to baskets by Crandall and Jamell Anderson, before MBA stopped the bleeding with a tough make from inside the congested Riders paint. Pharroh Gordon reduced the deficit to single digits with another tough, heavily contested bucket inside the paint, however the Nix left Johnson wide open on the wing and the sharpshooter drilled an easy triple to reinstate Leicester’s double-digit cushion at the mid-way point of the quarter. The Nix trailed by nine points with three minutes remaining in the first half, but they went into the locker room tied at 42 points apiece, after they managed to outscore their opponents by 11-to-2 before the half-time buzzer sounded.
Jimbo Lull placed the Nix on the high side after he connected on a couple of free-throws at the 8:35 mark of the third quarter. McCall followed up with a smooth floater, however Johnson replied instantly with a crafty lay-up on the other end. Phoenix’s lead remained at two with five minutes remaining in the penultimate quarter. The Riders got themselves back in front thanks to a triple by Crandall at the 4:48 mark. The guests extended their advantage to four at the 3:20 mark and the two sides then traded buckets until the end of the frame, meaning that Leicester kept their four-point lead intact heading into the final quarter.
Johnson was forced into his first miss from behind the arc, in the opening seconds of the fourth. The Nix capitalised on the error and added two points through Bryan-Amaning. Ross put his team back in the ascendancy with a trey-ball at the 9-minute mark. Ross and McCall Jr combined to increase Cheshire’s lead to four at the 7:28 mark. The Riders trimmed Phoenix’s lead down to two at the half-way point of the decisive quarter and it was Crandall who eventually nudged his side back in front with a lay-up in transition at the 4:08 mark. The two sides were tied at 78 points a piece with three minutes remaining. Both teams battled hard in the closing minutes of the contest, but Leicester looked favourites to snatch the victory, as they found themselves up by one with 6.5 seconds to go. Ross wrapped up his excellent performance with the most important play of the night — and perhaps of the entire season — as he drained a clutch, game-winning three-pointer at the horn, helping the Nix obtain an epic win over the Riders.