by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix completed the season-series sweep over the Glasgow Rocks and secured qualification into the BBL Playoffs with an emphatic 16-point victory at the EPSV.
The Nix got off to a great start as they made 64% of their attempts from the field and outscored their opponents 26-to-14 in the first quarter of the contest.
The two sides scored 21 points apiece in the second stanza, which meant that Cheshire went into the break with a comfortable 12-point cushion, after they made 55% of their shots from the floor and 42% from deep in the first 20 minutes of the game.
The Nix replicated their first quarter performance in the penultimate frame, as they outscored the Rocks by 26-to-14 and went into the final quarter with a 24-point lead.
Gareth Murray’s team opened the decisive quarter with a 14-to-2 run, however they failed to make up any more ground before the final buzzer and ultimately succumbed to their third regular season defeat against the Nix. 69-85.
As a team, the Nix shot 51% from the field (37-72 FG) and 38% from deep (7-18 3PT). Ben Thomas’ team won the rebounding battle 37-to-31 and also accumulated 24 assists on 37 made baskets.
Kahron Ross paved the way with a game-high 20-point performance, to which he also added four rebounds, four assists and a couple of steals. Ross shot 60% from the floor (9-15 FG), 50% from three-point land (2-4 3PT) and finished with the second-highest plus/minus (+18).
Jalen Hayes supplied his team 19 points on just 10 shots and also contributed with four rebounds, four steals and a couple of dimes. Hayes made 80% of his attempts from the field (8-10 FG) and was perfect from behind the arc (2-2 3PT).
Mike McCall Jr. committed zero turnovers and totalled 14 points, nine assists and four rebounds in just under 35 minutes.
Pharroh Gordon was Cheshire’s best performer off the bench, as he finished with 11 points, six rebounds and two assists.
Isa Brandon, Fraser Malcolm and David Mpondo all scored 14 points apiece for the visitors.
The visitors started off the better side as they scored seven points and restricted the Nix to just two inside the first couple of minutes of the contest. Cheshire replied with seven unanswered points and took their second lead of the night at the 6:34 mark of the opening quarter. Kyle Carey extended Phoenix’s lead to three before the clock hit the five-minute mark, after he split a pair of freebies. The hosts closed the first quarter well as they extended the gap to double-digits (26-14) before the start of the second quarter.
The Rocks outscored the Nix by four in the first couple of minutes of the second quarter and cut the deficit to eight. McCall then drilled a three-pointer from the wing and extended Phoenix’s lead back to double-digits. The Nix found themselves ahead by 11 points at the half-way point of the quarter, despite Glasgow’s efforts to get back into the game. Phoenix failed to score for a couple of minutes while the Rocks added four points through Brandon and Boban Jacdonmi, making it a seven-point game with three minutes remaining in the first half. Mpondo reduced Phoenix’s cushion to four at the 2:50 mark, however Thomas’ men closed the half with a 10-2 burst and went into the break with a 12-point advantage.
Brandon scored a driving lay-up on the first possession of the second half but Hayes managed to reply with a triple from the wing on the next possession. Julius Van Sauers split a pair of free-throws before Hayes added his second trey-ball of the night and extended Phoenix’s lead to 15. Hayes then converted a lay-up and forced coach Murray into a time-out, as his team trailed by 17 with 7:55 left in the third quarter. The Nix pushed their advantage to 20 points at the 5:55 mark, thanks to a pretty turnaround jumper from Matthew Bryan-Amaning. Phoenix’s lead stood at 22 with only three minutes remaining in the penultimate quarter. The two sides just traded buckets in the final 179 seconds of the quarter before MBA managed to tip-in McCall’s missed shot just before the buzzer sounded, sending the Nix into the fourth frame up 73-49.
The Nix failed to score until the 7:42 mark of the fourth quarter, however the gap between the two sides was still significant, thanks to Phoenix’s work during the previous three quarter. Ross scored Phoenix’s first points of the fourth, however Mpondo replied instantly with a three-pointer. Brandon made a lay-up on a fast-break and trimmed Phoenix’s lead down to 18 at the 6:10 mark. The Rocks then went on a 6-0 run in the space of three minutes and Phoenix’s cushion was down to just 12 points, with three minutes left to play. The momentum swung back in Cheshire’s favour in the last three minutes of the contest, as they outscored the visitors by 10-to-6 and ran out victorious, 85-69.