by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix bowed out of the BBL Cup despite a valiant effort against the Leicester Riders at the Morningside Arena.
Ben Mockford had a stellar night for the Nix, as he poured in 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting from the field, including 8-of-12 from three-point range, while reigning BBL MVP Geno Crandall paved the way for the Riders with a 24-point performance which also included seven assists and four rebounds.
The Nix were more accurate from the field (32-67 FG; 47%) and three-point range (10-24 3PT; 41%) than the Riders (30-66 FG; 45%) & (10-27 3PT; 37%) however Rob Paternostro’s side performed better at the foul line as they made 15 of their 20 attempts (75% FT) while the Nix made 10 of their 16 freebies (62% FT).
The two sides couldn’t be separated in the battle of the boards as they both finished with 38 rebounds, and while the Nix committed one less turnover than their opponents (9-to-10 TO’s), the Riders accumulated one more assist than the visitors (19-to-18 AST).
Ben Thomas got the reaction he desired from his team, following the heavy 28-point defeat in Manchester the night before, as his team outscored the hosts by 28-to-21 in the opening 10 minutes of the game.
The Nix extended their lead to a game-high 12 points at the 7-minute mark of the second quarter however the Riders then scored nine unanswered points to reduce the deficit to a single possession, with 4:30 remaining in the first half. Leicester tied the game at 44-points apiece just before the half-time buzzer sounded as Zach Jackson managed to get his last-gasp floater to fall.
Cheshire’s stifling and disciplined defence restricted the Riders to just 15 points in the penultimate quarter. Thomas’ men added 20 points, bringing their total to 64 at the end of the third, whilst the Riders lagged behind with 59.
The guests stretched their lead to seven at the 8:43 mark thanks to Noah Dickerson’s crafty move in the post, however the Riders, led by Conner Washington, then embarked on a 10-to-2 run which saw them back in the ascendancy, with just under seven minutes left on the clock. The two teams then went back & forth, trading blows in equal measure. Namon Wright put his team ahead by one point after he converted both of his shots from the foul line, with 16 seconds left to play, however the Riders responded with a make from inside the paint by Jubril Adekoya. Cheshire had just 2.9 seconds to get a shot off on the offensive end and actually obtained a decent look at the top of the arc, however the Riders survived & advanced through to the Semi-Final of the Cup after Wright failed to connect on his last-second attempt.
Despite missing the final shot of the night, Wright notched himself a 16-point & 10-rebound double-double in his return to the Morningside Arena. Teddy Okereafor also supplied his team with a 10-point, 10-assist double-double in which he committed zero turnovers. Dickerson scored 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor and also hauled in eight rebounds.
Jackson finished with 17 points and five rebounds, while Washington totalled 12 points and a couple of assists off the bench for the hosts.