by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix suffered their 10th loss in the BBL Championship following a fourth quarter collapse against the Leicester Riders at the Morningside Arena.
The Nix failed to score in the first three minutes of the contest but managed to regroup after coach Thomas called a time-out at the 7:05 mark and eventually won the opening frame against the league leaders, 18-15.
The two sides couldn’t be separated after the first 20 minutes, as they went into the interval knotted at 44 points apiece. The Riders shot 58% from the field and 70% from three-point range in the first half, however they gave up plenty of second-chance opportunities as the Nix hauled in nine offensive rebounds.
Cheshire went into the fourth frame with a seven-point cushion after they restricted Leicester to 16 points in the third quarter, while they added 23.
Leicester erased Phoenix’s lead inside the first four minutes of the final quarter and actually held the visitors scoreless until the 4:52 mark, when Kahron Ross converted his attempt from the free-throw line. Jalen Hayes was the only other Phoenix player who managed to score in the decisive quarter, as the Nix amassed just three points (season-low) in the fourth. Ross picked up a serious injury and was forced to exit the game at the 1:51 mark. The Riders torched the wounded Nix in the closing stages of the fixture and sealed their 18th win in the BBL Championship.
The highly-touted Mustapha Heron had his best game as a Rider, as he tallied a game-high 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 3-of-5 from deep.
Conner Washington, who stepped in for the injured MVP candidate — Geno Crandall — supplied his team with 15 points, 12 assists and a couple of steals.
As a team, the Riders made 51% of their attempts from the field and 52% from behind the arc. Rob Paternostro’s side assisted on 23 of their 33 makes from the field.
The Nix made just 40% of their shots from the field and 31% from three-point range, however they did win the rebounding battle 39-to-37 and assisted on 19 of their 28 makes from the field.
Matthew Bryan-Amaning finished with a team-high 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting, while his front court partner Jimbo Lull tallied 14 points and seven rebounds on 6-of-11 shooting.
Ross totalled 13 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals and zero turnovers.
The Nix came up empty on their first five shots of the game and allowed the Riders to jump out to a 5-0 lead inside the first three minutes of the contest. Ross eventually got his team on the board with a three-pointer from the wing at the 6:42 mark. The Nix tied the game at seven points apiece at the mid-way point of the quarter and then gained their first lead of the night with three minutes remaining in the frame. The guests preserved their advantage and went into the second quarter up 18-15.
The Riders opened the second stanza with an 8-4 run and reinstated themselves in the ascendancy at the 7:18 mark thanks to a trey-ball from Washington. Lull knocked down back-t0-back triples, however former Nix forward Jamell Anderson replied with a triple of his own and tied the game at 28 points apiece with six minutes remaining in the first half. Heron capped off a 7-2 Leicester run and forced the Nix into a time-out at the 4:24 mark. The Nix benefitted from the intermission as they trimmed the deficit to one with three minutes on the clock. The two teams went into the break level at 44 points apiece after Cheshire outscored Leicester 8-to-7 in the final 180 seconds of the first half.
The hosts began the third quarter with a 6-1 run. Ross eventually stopped the bleeding with a make from mid-range. The Riders then pushed their lead to eight at the 6:28 mark and forced coach Thomas into another time-out. Lull and Ross sparked an instant 5-0 Phoenix run which closed the gap to three at the half-way point of the penultimate frame. Hayes added a three-point bucket at the 3-minute mark, however Heron nudged his team back in front after he replied with a triple of his own on the next possession. McCall drilled his first three-pointer of the night at the 2:33 mark of the third quarter. The Nix outscored the Riders by five in the closing minutes of the third period of play and went into the final frame up 67-60.
Cheshire failed to score until the 4:52 mark of the fourth quarter, however Leicester’s lead stood at just one point despite Phoenix’s scoring drought. The Riders widened the gap to six at the 3:03 mark thanks to baskets from Anderson, Washington and Darien Nelson-Henry. Ross landed awkwardly after a lay-up attempt at the 1:51 mark and was forced to watch the final minutes of the contest from the sidelines. The Riders outscored the Nix by 8-to-2 in the last 110 seconds and tied up the season series with a 82-70 victory.