by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix finished the group-stage of the BBL Cup in style as they cruised past the Newcastle Eagles and clinched third place in the ‘North’ group.
The Nix suffered a 20-point loss in the first meeting between the two sides and they also needed to beat the visitors in order to lock up the third spot in their group. Ben Thomas’ men were able to grasp the importance of the fixture and that resulted in them opening the game with a 23-point first quarter, in which they restricted the Geordies to just 14.
The Eagles scored five unanswered points to start off the second stanza before Josh McSwiggan stopped Phoenix’s drought at the 7:36 mark with with a crowd-pleasing alley-oop play. The tandem of Namon Wright and Radwan Bakkali then spearheaded a 23-11 stretch by the Nix to close out the first half, meaning that the hosts went into the locker-room with an 18-point cushion, 48-30.
Wright opened the third quarter with a lay-up and continued to score at will for the remainder of the frame, as the Nix totalled 31 points, while the Eagles matched them almost blow-for-blow, as they netted 29 against Phoenix’s deteriorating defence.
After leading by as much as 26 points at one stage of the second half, the Nix saw their lead diminish to 12, with 2:20 left to play. Ian MacLeod’s team tried to cut the deficit to single-digits however their efforts were denied by Cheshire forward Levi Bradley, who scored Phoenix’s last seven points of the night. The Nix led for 38 minutes and 48 seconds out of the 40 played and eventually emerged victorious 99-84 at the final buzzer.
Thomas’ men made 54.9% (39-71 FG) of their attempts from the field and 42.9% (12-28 3PT) from behind the arc. They took great care of the ball as they only committed six turnovers throughout the entire game, whilst assisting on 24 of their 39 made baskets.
The Eagles won the rebounding battle convincingly, 42-to-29, however they struggled to make shots, as they only connected on 42.4% (28-66 FG) of their attempts from the floor and 21.7% (5-23 3PT) from deep. The Geordies were forced into 13 turnovers on the night.
Wright erupted for a season-high 33 points on 12-of-16 shooting from the floor and 7-of-10 from three-point land. The 6’5 forward was perfect from the line and also added six rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal to his performance.
McSwiggan contributed with a solid performance, as he netted 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including 3-of-6 from deep. McSwiggan also accumulated six assists and hauled in four rebounds. Bradley added 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting and finished with a game-high +26 Plus/Minus.
Newcastle’s Duke Shelton posted a 27-point, 12-rebound double-double, while Wesley Person Jr. also scored a joint team-high 27 points. Corey Johnson, who had scored 61 points in the previous two outings, managed to rack up 23 against the Nix, however he was highly inefficient, as he only made seven of 24 attempts from the floor, including just one of nine from three-point territory and also turned the ball over on six occasions.