by Vlad Ionasc
The Newcastle Eagles completed the season series sweep over the Cheshire Phoenix with an emphatic 103-87 victory at the Ellesmere Port Sports Village.
The Nix lost their first battle against the Eagles by one point back in December and then dropped the reverse fixture in Newcastle by seven points in February. The Geordies breezed past the Nix in the third and final meeting between the two sides.
Ian MacLeod’s men led from start to finish and played some mesmerising basketball against the hosts, who were without their star point-guard and MVP candidate Kahron Ross.
The Eagles shot 80% from the floor in the first quarter and earned themselves a 10-point cushion heading into the second frame. The visitors doubled their advantage by the time the half-time buzzer sounded, as they finished the first half with 56 points on 24-of-32 shooting from the field, including an almost perfect 7-of-8 shooting from deep. Kyle Carey was Cheshire’s lone bright spark in the opening 20 minutes, as he accumulated 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
The Nix performed better in the penultimate act of the game, as they held the Eagles to zero points in the first three minutes and eventually won the frame 24-17, reducing the deficit to 13 with 10 minutes left to play.
The Eagles obtained a 16-point victory after they won the final quarter, 30-to-27.
Newcastle shot 63% from the floor, 53% from deep and 87% from the free-throw line. They amassed 25 assists on 44 made field-goals and forced the Nix into 18 turnovers. Cheshire shot a good percentage from the field (51%) and won the rebounding battle 33-to-29, however they struggled to make shots from three-point land (23% 3PT) and only converted 62% of their attempts from the charity stripe.
Newcastle’s starters all finished with double-digit points but it was Justin Gordon who paved the way with a team-high 24 points (10-12 FG), six rebounds and three steals in just 25 minutes.
Cortez Edwards provided his team with 18 points, nine assists, five steals and four rebounds while Rahmon Fletcher accumulated 15 points, eight assists and four rebounds.
Jalen Hayes finished with a game-high 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting, while Carey supplied his team with another great all-around performance as he tallied 18 points (8-13 FG), six rebounds, five assists and a steal.
Mike McCall Jr. played the full 40 minutes and totalled 19 points, five assists and three steals. Jimbo Lull added 13 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes.
Pharroh Gordon started his first game since March 5th (vs. Leicester Riders) and finished with six points, six rebounds, six assists and a couple of steals.
Justin Gordon opened the game with huge slam dunk and then followed up with a trey-ball from the corner. Carey and Hayes countered immediately with a couple of second-chance baskets. Louis Sayers and Gordon combined for two quick triples and the Eagles found themselves up by seven at the 7:22 mark of the first quarter. The visitors gained their first double-digit lead at the 5:38 mark, thanks to a spectacular dunk from Gordon. The Nix managed to trim Newcastle’s advantage back down to single-digits at the 3-minute mark. Carey made it a two-possession game with a three from the corner at the 2:06 mark, however the Nix allowed their opponents to finish close the opening frame with a 6-2 run, which meant that Ben Thomas’ men went into the second quarter trailing, 17-27.
Edwards buried a three-pointer to start off the second stanza but McCall replied with a trey of his own on the next possession. Rex Pflueger made a three-pointer and obtained a foul in the process, however he missed his freebie. Pflueger splashed another three, this time from the corner, and extended his team’s lead to 20 at the 6:19 mark. The Nix added four points through McCall and Lull but the guests came right back with baskets from Sayers and Edwards. MacLeod’s side went into the interval with a commanding 20-point lead after the Nix failed to shave off any more points before the half-time buzzer sounded.
Cheshire started the second half well, as they held the Eagles scoreless in the first three minutes while they added eight points to reduce the deficit to 12. Edwards stopped the drought at the 6:58 mark after he stole the ball from Gordon and converted a tough lay-up. Newcastle’s lead stood at 15 at the half-way point of the quarter. Hayes converted a four-point play and decreased Newcastle’s cushion to 11 at the 4:51 mark. The two teams traded baskets in equal measure until the last second of the quarter, when Edwards managed to beat the buzzer with a lay-up, which sent his team into the final quarter up by 13.
Edwards opened the final frame with an and-one play, which pushed Newcastle’s lead to 16. Hayes was then fouled on a three-point attempt by Darius Defoe. Phoenix’s captain went a perfect 3-of-3 from the line, however the Nix still found themselves behind by 13 with 8:56 on the clock. The Eagles recuperated their 16-point lead at the 6:54 mark and extended it to 18 two minutes later. The Nix found themselves down by 20 points once again, at the 4:03 mark of the final quarter. The Eagles were outscored by 12-to-8 in the last four minutes of the contest, however they still ran out victorious, 103-87.