by Vlad Ionasc
Cheshire Phoenix clinched their first set of back-to-back wins in the 2021/22 season after they edged out the Newcastle Eagles at the Veru Motors Arena.
The Eagles got off to a slow start and allowed the visitors to control the tempo in the first half, however they responded well in the second act of the game and managed to erase an 11-point deficit in the final quarter. Despite a spirited effort from the hosts, Ben Thomas’ men came through in the clutch and obtained a three-point win on the road.
The Nix turned great defence into even better offence in the first quarter as they restricted the Eagles to just 16 points whilst scoring 29 past Ian MacLeod’s defence. Larry Austin Jr and Michael Ochereobia were particularly impressive on the defensive end while Noah Dickerson led the charge offensively with eight first quarter points.
The second stanza was more low-key compared to the first, as the two sides combined for just 21 points. The Nix managed to keep the hosts to single-digit points, whilst they added 12 to go into the break up 41-to-25.
Austin scored the first basket of the second half, at the 8:26 mark, however the Eagles then engineered an 8-0 run which reduced Phoenix’s advantage to 10 at the 7:04 mark. Cheshire replied with an 8-0 run of their own and recaptured their original 18-point lead at the mid-way point of the third quarter. The Geordies kept the game alive ahead of the start of the fourth act as they outscored the Nix by 12-to-5 in the last five minutes of the penultimate quarter, bringing the deficit down to 11 points (45-56).
Cheshire’s double-digit lead evaporated at the 2:57 mark of the final quarter, when Kyle Williams tied the scores at 65 points apiece with a driving lay-up which also earned him an and-one opportunity. Williams knocked down the complimentary free-throw to give the Eagles their first lead of the night with less than three minutes on the clock. Namon Wright placed the Nix back in the ascendancy just 20 seconds later after he converted a lay-up of his own, however the two teams found themselves knotted once again after Wesley Person Jr. split a pair of freebies at the 2:14 mark. Levi Bradley replied to Duke Shelton’s lay-up with a cold-blooded three-pointer from the wing before Austin stole the ball and converted a lay-up of his own on the next possession to increase Phoenix’s lead to three, with less than a minute left to play. Teddy Okereafor helped the Nix get over the finish line as he managed to sink four clutch free-throws in the last 30 seconds of the night.
Cheshire’s 77-74 victory means their regular season record now stands at 3-6, while the Eagles slipped to 4-5 and suffered their third consecutive loss.
The hosts made 39% (9-23 3PT) of their attempts from three-point range, while the winners shot 36% (8-22 3PT) from behind the arc, however neither shot a great overall percentage as the Eagles finished with 39% FG while the Nix were marginally better at 41%.
Cheshire won the rebounding battle 44-to-39 and also out-scored the Eagles in the paint, 38-to-30.
The in-form Austin Jr. led the way for the Nix, as he finished with 19 points (7-11 FG), five rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block. Dickerson (14), Okereafor (13) and Wright (11) also finished in double-figure scoring.
Person Jr. scored a game-high 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the floor while Rahmon Fletcher supplied the Eagles with 15 assists. Shelton and Williams combined for 33 points off the bench.