The two new faces at Cheshire Phoenix produced two fine home debut displays as John Lavery’s side made comfortable work of Surrey United at the Northgate Arena running out 99-70 winners.
Gerald Robinson, who arrived only on Friday into the Phoenix camp top scored with 27 points, as Victor Moses claimed his second double-double of 20 points and 14 rebounds.
However, it must be noted that Surrey had their diamond in defeat in the shape of Ceslovas Kucinskas, who claimed a massive 25 rebounds (11 offensive and 14 defensive) with a team-high 23 points.
Cheshire: Middleton, G. Robinson, Moses, Coleman, Williams
Surrey: Tatham-Nunn, Sijanas, S. Robinson, Dusha, Kucinskas
It was a slow start for both sides, who struggled early on with shot selection as well as overall control of the game. Points were traded until midway through the first quarter when Cheshire, who were trailing by three at 9-12, went on the first of many runs of the night, regaining a lead they would, eventually, not relinquish. Surrey kept in check late in the quarter, as Kucinskas and Ignas Sijanas helped the period close in to just a three-point deficit, 21-18.
A huge 20-4 run gave the home side some confidence in the second quarter, and whilst it wasn’t completely smooth from defence to offence, there were signs that the link-up play was coming together (one particular play that was without doubt the play of the game – see below). Great work and reaction from newcomer Robinson, saw part of Phoenix’s run capped after a second of Dominique Coleman’s free throws missed and was followed up by the new forward at 39-22.
However, Phoenix seemed to take one eye off the ball, as Surrey’s final 12 points of the quarter all came from outside the arc, to send the home side into the locker rooms with a smaller than expected lead of 46-34.
Once more though, Jack Majewski’s Surrey side were to suffer in coming out slow from a break in play, as returning to court, Phoenix stormed out of the blocks and stretched out to a 28-point lead, after some wonderful work by Coleman. This did not dishearten Surrey, who kept plugging away with star centre Kucinskas pulling down the boards at both ends and trying to make the best of second opportunities. A late flurry of three-pointers, including a buzzer-beating effort on the halfway line by Surrey’s Joel Henry, saw the score stand at 79-54 with the final quarter looming.
John Lavery’s Phoenix took hold and began to transition in free-flowing fashion and racked up the points up on the board on their way to their second victory of the season; Phoenix youngsters Sam Lavery and Daniel Miller also made appearances late in the game, Miller helping his side hit a game high lead of 31 points, before Elvisi Dusha’s final points of the night ended the game, 99-70.
It will no doubt be something of a relief to Lavery to secure the victory against a side who are struggling to come up with a finished product, but with an altered roster of his own, he knows there is more to come from his Cheshire charges: “It’s still early days, Gerald only came in on Friday, it will be a stronger test next Sunday against Sheffield, but we have to prepare well all week be ready for that.”
Speaking of his two star men, Lavery is happy that a weak spot in his side has now been addressed: “Victor [Moses]’s a big inside presence, which I thought we were lacking, there’s a lot more to come from him, then Gerald [Robinson] practised with us Friday and Saturday, he’s still not in great shape, but it proved tonight what he can do out there. Once he’s in game shape, there will be a lot more from him.”
Surrey have been touted by many British basketball fans as potentials for having a winless season considering the results so far and the sides they have so far faced, but Lavery reiterated that he feels many will be proved wrong: “They are well drilled, well organised, have a lot of talent out there, but I disagree with what some may say about them; I think they will get a win, but thankfully, it wasn’t tonight!”
Jack Majewski, head coach of Surrey United, thought that the final tally on the night told a different story than what actually played out: “It was a game where some may say it was a blow-out at 99-70, but if a few shots had dropped and we hadn’t turned the ball over as much as we did, it could have easily been a closer game by the score line.
“I think we have if not the best, one of the best, centres in the league with Ceslovas [Kucinskas], as you saw tonight, but we are hopefully getting our Americans in shortly, which will give the other players on our team an opportunity to give more to our game and our rotation,” Majewski went on to say.
One aspect that was clear to see, despite the result, was the team camaraderie on show, before, during and after the game.
The players were continually encouraging each other, maintained their efforts for a full forty minutes, and coming out of the locker rooms stayed together until the last man walked out, something that will be critical if this side are to keep up a win at some stage.
When highlighted to Majewski, he said: “That’s something great to be noticed; if we haven’t got a strong bond, we may as well not play, and we know it is difficult, but we work hard on that and have to remain positive.”
Play of the game
Early in the second quarter saw Phoenix move the ball up court in one swift and decisive play. A great rejection by Reggie Middleton off the boards resulted in a pinpoint pass cross court by Coleman to Moses who drove inside and made a deft hook shot. If that can be replicated by Phoenix more often, it would certainly dispel any belief they are in contention to scrap for a play-off spot – it would be more nailed on than that.
It is not often that I do this, but there are definite claims for the MVP award from both sides. Victor Moses proved again for a second game in a row that he can claim the boards and anything else that comes with them with a great double-double, so he claims Cheshire’s nomination without question.
However, Ceslovas Kucinskas is due praise for the double-double of his own. To claim 65% of your team’s rebounds is some major effort, considering the shared minutes of Surrey, but he was always in the mix. Some may say he deserves to be in a better side than this current United set-up, but it would be foolish to not work the team around Kucinskas at this moment in time with what he brings on court.
Cheshire Phoenix at home to Sheffield Sharks (rescheduled), at Northgate Arena, Sunday 3rd November, 5:30pm tip-off.
Surrey United at home to Newcastle Eagles, at Surrey Sports Park, 10th November, 3:00pm tip-off.