by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix swept the Sheffield Sharks and improved their regular season record to 10-9 following a convincing 75-69 victory at the EPSV.
The Nix knew that one more win over the Sharks would give them a clean sweep over Atiba Lyons’ team, so they stamped their authority on the contest from the get-go, winning the opening frame by eight points. Cheshire started the second quarter with a 6-3 burst but then went on a freezing-cold spell in which they failed to score for well over four minutes. Sheffield capitalised on the drought and closed the gap to four points before the end of the first half. Ben Thomas’ team exhibited their best third quarter performance of the season, as they outscored their opponents by six points. Sheffield trimmed Cheshire’s 10-point cushion down to three with just one minute and seven seconds left on the clock, however the Nix emerged victorious at the final buzzer as they added eight points and restricted the Sharks to five in the final minute of the game.
Cheshire’s largest lead of the night (16) came during the third quarter, when Jimbo Lull put his side up by 56-to-40 with a pretty and-one play. The Nix had total control of the game, as they found themselves on the high-side for 38 minutes and 11 seconds, while the visitors were in the ascendancy for a mere 32 seconds.
As a team the Nix shot 49.1% from the field and 82.4% from the free-throw line, however they only converted 27.8% of their attempts from three-point territory. On the other hand, the Sharks were poor in every statistical category, as they made just 41% of their attempts from the field, 26.3% from deep and 70% from the stripe.
Antwon Lillard scored a game-high 21 points and also hauled in nine rebounds, while Jeremy Hemsley finished with 20 points, four rebounds and two steals on 54.5% shooting from the floor, including 40% from behind the arc. Bennett Koch supplied his team with 16 points, eight rebounds and a block.
Pharroh Gordon missed the fixture through injury and was replaced by Mike McCall in the starting line-up. Gordon’s absence and McCall promotion to the starting five meant that former Phoenix junior Robbie Graham was given a couple of minutes off the bench. The 18-year-old notched his first points in the BBL with a trey-ball from the corner at the 6:27 mark of the second quarter.
Lull paved the way with a team-high 17 points and five rebounds on 7-of-9 shooting from the field.
Jalen Hayes failed to clinch his sixth consecutive double-double, however the Nix captain still stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, nine rebounds, six steals and four assists.
Kyle Carey tallied 11 points and six rebounds on 100% shooting from the field and three-point range, and finished with a game-high +16 plus/minus.
Mike McCall Jr. added 13 points, two assists and a steal, while Matthew Bryan-Amaning contributed with 11 points, six rebounds and three assists off the bench.
The Nix raced to a 7-2 lead inside the first three minutes of the game, thanks to baskets from Hayes, Lull and McCall. The Sharks countered with buckets from Lillard and Hemsley, however a buzzer-beating floater from Bryan-Amaning meant that Phoenix had a four-point advantage at the mid-way point of the quarter. Cheshire outscored the Sharks by four in the final three minutes of the quarter and went into the second frame up, 22-14.
Phoenix held the Sharks to three points in the first two minutes of the second period of play, while they added six through Kahron Ross, Carey and MBA to give themselves the first double-digit lead of the night. Jordan Ratinho replied with a solo 4-0 run before Graham, the ex-Phoenix junior, reinstated Cheshire’s double-digit lead with a triple from the corner. Neither side added any points from the 5:28 mark until the 2:17 mark of the second quarter. Lillard ended the dry spell when he nailed a three-pointer from the wing. Sheffield closed the final couple of minutes of the first half with a 6-2 run, which meant they trailed by four points at the interval.
Hayes opened the second half with a baby hook-shot. Hemsley split a pair of free-throws before Hayes added another tough bucket over Kipper Nichols to put the Nix up by seven. Carey converted a silky and-one play, however Lillard answered back with a step-back three over Phoenix’s swingman. Coach Lyons was forced into a time-out after the Nix increased their lead to double-digits at the 6:59 mark. Hayes then extended Phoenix’s advantage to 13 at the 4:53 mark. Lull added a further three points just 50 seconds later, however the Nix were outscored by five in the final four minutes of the penultimate quarter and went into the final frame with a 10-point cushion.
Cheshire went scoreless in the opening three minutes of the fourth quarter, while Sheffield added five points through Hemsley and Nicholas Lewis. Lull scored Phoenix’s first points of the frame with a powerful dunk which was followed up with a tough lay-up in traffic by McCall. Cheshire’s lead was trimmed to four at the half-way point of the quarter after Robert Marsden and Lillard combined for five unanswered points. Sheffield made it a one possession game with 1:07 on the clock, however they failed to get any closer to the hosts, as they were outscored by three in the final 60 seconds of the game.