The biggest upset so far in the BBL Trophy came after Cheshire Phoenix pulled off a superb second half display at the Northgate Arena to beat the recently crowned BBL Cup winners, the Leicester Riders, 86-78 on Sunday night.
It was a closely fought start for this first round BBL Trophy tie, which only came in to its own late in the first quarter as the home side went on a 6-0 run after some strong offensive pressure, but Leicester’s Jamell Anderson made a late bucket from deep to bring his side to within two points, 20-18, at the end of the first quarter.
The second period saw Coach Paternostro’s side take more of the opportunities available to them with the lack of defense from the Phoenix, combined with the pressure placed inside to redress issues on the boards at both ends of the court (just five rebounds in total in the first quarter – a further thirteen in the second). Although hitting a game-high lead of 13 points, the visitors went in to the locker room on the high side, 36-47.
A 9-2 run in the first five minutes after the half-time break brought the home support some hope, and this spell continued through culminating in Dominique Coleman’s huge three with thirty seconds to go in the third quarter, giving Cheshire a slender two point lead at 61-59 ahead of the final period.
As was seen last weekend in Birmingham, one should never count out the Riders, and being nine points adrift midway through the last stanza, the script could have been written for yet another amazing comeback.
Consecutive threes from Mike Black, Conner Washington and Andrew Sullivan brought the scores level at 72-72 in little more than 90 seconds.
Coach Lavery called a timeout for his charges to focus on the job in hand, and with the visitors in foul trouble, took complete advantage, as Reggie Middleton took over, making ten points in the last two and a half minutes (six of which were from the charity stripe).
Dominique Coleman put the seal on the scoreline late on and Cheshire Phoenix secured a 86-78 win to send them through to the next round of the BBL Trophy.
Reggie Middleton made a great double-double of 32 points and 10 assists, collecting seven rebounds along the way for Cheshire. His team-mate Victor Moses also bagged 17 points and 10 rebounds, with a healthy five steals to boot.
“We’re coming together, playing some great basketball at the moment as a team against a better quality team,” said Lavery after the win. “We tweaked a few things at the defensive end at half-time. In the third quarter we kept them to 12 points, in the final quarter to 19; against a team like that, all credit to the six guys out there and did a fantastic job. They stayed together as a unit and get the win.
“I didn’t think we were great in the first half. We talked at half time, eleven points down. I said that it didn’t matter what the scoreboard said now – just what it said at the end of the fourth quarter. I told them not to keep their heads down and that we could pull that back in a few minutes – which we did.
“Leicester came back with a run, but we weathered the storm and had some good looks at the end which we needed.
“Reducing the turnovers and addressing our work on the boards – put all that together and it was a fantastic job and I’m really proud of what we put out.
“We’ve got to stay together and not get carried away and take one game at a time. We have a tough game against Worcester on Friday, again as good as Newcastle and Leicester, but make sure we take care of that.”
For Leicester, Anthony Rowe stood out above the rest, with 14 points and 8 rebounds, but Coach Paternostro had full appreciation for the work rate and efforts of John Lavery’s side.
“Give Coach Lavery and his team a lot of credit they made a lot of tough shots,” Paternostro said after the game, “they are a team that make some crazy shots at times, but you have to tip your hat to them. The game was on the line and they made it count.
“Make no mistake about it, they deserved to win the game with the way they played down the stretch and the way they made tough shots.”
Shooting 14 from 16 at the free throw line, he had great praise for Phoenix’s top scorer: “Middleton is a heck of a player – one of the best in the league, no doubt about it.”
Paternostro felt the consecutive losses could be an effect of the run of games his side have played recently: “I thought my team were fatigued; you can say what you want about it but – the schedule – we had a tough game last night, and then to come on the road Sunday and we got more fatigued as the game went on. We know we’ll have to regroup now after this.”
One major point coach Lavery wanted to emphasis was the support and efforts of the Phoenix faithful who helped make it a sold-out attendance on the night: “All credit to the people who organise the event and make sure we get a full crowd. To see a full crowd at the Northgate like this, it was absolutely rocking out there. It gives a lift to the players out there. When you come out to an arena like that cheering for you; it spurs you on and gives you a great lift and all credit to the back room staff at the Phoenix for doing that tonight.”
- Round-up of all this weekend’s BBL Trophy first round scores: Bristol Flyers 91 Surrey United 75, Leeds Carnegie 48 Glasgow Rocks 84, Plymouth Raiders 90 Durham Wildcats 81, Essex Pirates 73 Newcastle Eagles 101, Reading Rockets 73 Sheffield Sharks 85, Manchester Giants 91 Birmingham Knights 74.