by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix dropped to 0-5 in the BBL Championship after they suffered a 22-point defeat against the Leicester Riders at the Morningside Arena.
The two sides squared off in BBL Cup less than a week ago, with the Riders emerging victorious by the slimmest of margins, 85-84. The second meeting of the season between the two teams looked set to go down to the wire yet again before Leicester used a 32-to-12 fourth quarter to pull away from the visitors.
Leicester’s American forward Marc Loving stole the show with 32 points on just 14 shots, while the reigning BBL MVP Geno Crandall also contributed with 11 points, nine assists and four steals.
The Riders made 50% of their attempts from the field (32-64 FG) and 45% from deep (14-31 3PT). Rob Paternostro’s side connected on 16 of 21 attempts from the foul line and also accumulated 25 assists to just seven turnovers.
The Nix missed just one free-throw, out of 15 attempted, however they were much less efficient than the Riders from the floor (26-56 FG; 46%) and three-point territory (6-19 3PT; 31%). Cheshire accumulated just 18 assists and turned the ball over 19 times.
Ben Thomas’ men opened the night with a couple of back-to-back three-pointer from the GB backcourt of Teddy Okereafor and Ben Mockford, before Patrick Whelan finally got the hosts on the board at the 8:55 mark. Whelan tied the game at the half-way point of the opening frame and gave the Riders their first lead of the night (12-10) with 4:27 left to play in the first act. The Nix out-fought their opponents in the closing stages of the first quarter and went into the second stanza with a 21-to-19 lead.
The two sides traded buckets and exchanged leads throughout the entire second quarter, but it was the Nix who once again came out on top, as they won the frame by 23-to-22 and went into the interval with a three-point cushion, 44-to-41.
Cheshire stretched their advantage to a game-high eight points at the 6:36 mark of the third, however the hosts used a 9-to-1 run to tie the game up at 54 points apiece with four minutes remaining in the penultimate quarter. The Nix were up by one when Radwan Bakkali was thrown out of the game after he received his second technical foul of the night. Kimbal Mackenzie missed the ensuing free-throw but Loving managed to draw a foul whilst attempting a three-pointer in the dying seconds of the quarter. The former G-League forward made all of his freebies and sent the Riders into the fourth with a two-point advantage and momentum on their side following Bakkali’s ejection.
The hosts capitalised on Cheshire’s defensive lapses as they opened the final quarter with seven makes from three-point land, creating an insurmountable lead at the mid-way point of the decisive frame. Despite keeping the game close for the majority of the night, the Nix found themselves down by 20 at the 3:45 mark of the fourth, after Jubril Adekoya converted his attempt from inside the paint. Conner Washington capped off Leicester’s emphatic fourth quarter performance with a silky lay-up, which set the final score at 94-72 in Leicester’s favour.
Mockford followed up his 30-point performance against the Riders with a 14-point outing, in which he shot 50% from the field and also dished out a couple of assists. Okereafor supplied the Nix with a team-high 17 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. The British point-guard also accumulated seven assists and a couple of steals.
Larry Austin Jr. made his debut for the Nix and finished with four points and three assists in just under 11 minutes.
The Nix out-rebounded the Riders 36-to-28 and out-scored them 34-to-26 in the paint, however Leicester’s bench, led by Washington, outscored Phoenix’s by 33-to-19.