by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix fell to a 32-point defeat at the hands of the Leicester Riders, who secured their fifth league title with an emphatic victory at the EPSV.
The Nix secured qualification into the Playoffs on Thursday evening against the Glasgow Rocks, however the loss against the Riders means that Ben Thomas’ side will head into the post-season as the seventh seed.
The Riders put on a sublime performance in the last regular season game of the 2020/21 season, as they won every quarter by six points or more on their way to a 32-point blowout victory against the playoff-bound Phoenix.
Darien Nelson-Henry finished with a game-high 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting, while Mustapha Heron (17), Jamell Anderson (14), Geno Crandall (14), William Lee (12) and Conner Washington (11) all added double-figure points.
Crandall was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field and also added eight assists, three rebounds and a couple of steals.
The visitors shot 56% from the field, 40% from deep and 83% from the free-throw line. On the other hand, the hosts converted just 42% of their attempts from the field, 15% from three-point range and 64% from the charity-stripe.
Kahron Ross supplied the Nix with 17 points and five assists on 57% shooting from the floor, while Jalen Hayes added 16 points, six rebounds and four steals on 54% shooting. Mike McCall Jr. (12) and Jimbo Lull (11) were the only other Nix players who totalled double-digit points.
The two sides traded blows in equal measure in the first two minutes of the contest, as they scored four points apiece. The visitors found some separation before the half-way point of the opening quarter and extended their lead to eight at the 3:27 mark after they combined their lockdown defence with a flurry of baskets on the offensive end. The Riders outscored the Nix by 6-to-4 in the last three minutes of the quarter and went into the second stanza with a 25-15 lead over the hosts.
McCall made the first basket of the second quarter but Alasdair Fraser replied immediately with a powerful dunk. Ross scored Phoenix’s first three-pointer of the night at the 8:58 mark but Anderson replied with a triple of his own just 15 seconds later and the visitors reinstated their double-digit lead with 8:43 remaining in the first half. Lee and Anderson combined for five quick points, extending Leicester’s lead to 15 at the 7:19 mark. McCall initiated a 6-0 burst for the hosts after he converted a pair of free-throws. Ross and Hayes followed up with a floater and dunk respectively and Leicester’s lead was down to single-digits with 4:41 left on the clock. The Riders executed much better than the Nix in the closing minutes of the first half and earned themselves a 16-point advantage at the interval.
The Riders opened the second half with a 7-4 run and extended their lead to 19 at the 8:05 mark. The Nix replied with a 6-2 burst however they failed to build on their run and allowed the visitors to recapture their 19-point advantage at the 5:46 mark. Lull split a pair of freebies before Crandall knocked down a shot from mid-range to push Leicester’s advantage up to 20 for the first time. The Riders played some sumptuous basketball in the last few minutes of the third quarter, and earned themselves a 22-point cushion heading into the final frame.
The visitors added eight unanswered points at the start of the fourth quarter and their ballooned to 30 with just over seven minutes remaining. Ross stopped the bleeding with a lay-up at the 7:17 mark, however Heron and Washington then sparked a 7-2 burst for the visitors, which increased their lead to 33 at the 5:47 mark. The Riders increased the gap to 38 just before the clock hit the three-minute mark, however they failed to reach the 40-point mark and actually got outscored by 9-to-3 in the dying minutes of the contest. Anderson scored the last bucket of the game, a three-pointer, with just 22 seconds left on the clock and sealed Leicester’s 97-65 victory over the Nix.