Glasgow Rocks made a Celtic connection as they defeated Cheshire Phoenix 90-77 in the first ever BBL Championship game to be staged in Wales on Wednesday night.
The result keeps Sterling Davis’ side firmly in the chase for seventh and eighth spots, but with only one head-to-head record over the other three teams in the running – every game now is seen to be must-win in order to book a place in the playoffs.
An added element of history attached to the fixture, due to combination of rescheduling and Cheshire’s regular home of the Northgate Arena unavailable meant the venue was to be Deeside Leisure Centre in Queensferry, Flintshire, just over the England-Wales border, giving the game a .
Despite the change of venue, the bleachers at Deeside were brimming with Phoenix fans come tip-off, and there was also handful of Rocks fans to boot.
The first two periods were marked out by a major run for either side.
Glasgow made their charge in the opening quarter, going on a 14-4 burst to take a commanding lead. Davis pushed his team out to a 12-point advantage, but a big three from Victor Moses at the end of the period, helping ‘Nix cut the gap to eight at 18-26.
That effort from Moses meant that stretching over the two periods, Phoenix turned the game around with their own 18-2 run, taking their first lead of the night. It was possibly the wake-up call the Rocks needed, staying in touch throughout, before a long range two from Davis beat the buzzer to restore a one-point lead at the break, 40-41.
The turning point though came in a rampant third quarter for the Rocks, not too dissimilar to that of the recent BBL Trophy semi-final second leg between the two sides, where Daniel Northern was allowed to dominant at both ends of the court.
There were plenty of dubious calls on the night for both sides, some decisions made more difficult perhaps with a floor seemingly very slippy under foot, others clearly debatable, but, during this particular passage of play, it was the Rocks who were to benefit. Northern came into his own, as the Rocks went on a 16-4 run, featuring plenty of easy looks for the Glasgow big on the way to leading 55-68 heading into the final ten minutes.
Fran Urli extended the Rocks out to a game-high 20 point lead in the last period, but the damage had been done, and Glasgow eventually took away a 90-77 victory that keeps their playoff hopes alive.
On the night, Chris Johnson led all scorers on 21 points in just over 28 minutes, with Northern bringing in 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Phoenix’s Reggie Middleton and Dominique Coleman both came out with 19 points apiece, and Moses along with Donatas Visockis both claimed double-doubles (16pts/11rbs and 12pts/12rbs respectively).
The disheartening stat for Cheshire though will be the difference in visits to the charity stripe, 13 compared to Glasgow’s 27, but there was no conviction or drive in the third quarter as was the case against London Lions on Sunday night, which ultimately let them down on the night.
Player-coach Davis believed his side were able to execute their tactics and game plan coming in to the fixture – and it paid off to perfection after half-time in his eyes.
“The key was to focus in on that third quarter; it’s been our Achilles’ heel all year, so that was something we wanted to address in the second half and come out and continue to be aggressive.
“Getting to the free-throw line was our game plan all along – to be aggressive, get to the basket. We know they are limited on rotation, so we had to make sure their three key guys had to play defence and get them in to some foul trouble,” Davis went on to say.
However, MVP on the night Northern felt there was a dual aspect to securing the W, attitude, and also the added bonus of a change of Cheshire’s scenery.
“Cheshire’s one of the more confident teams in the league,” Northern started by saying. “But I really believe that we can play with Cheshire so it’s a different mindset that we come out with – I just wish we could have play like this against every team!
“No disrespect, but this was a better gym than Cheshire have! Cheshire know they have a rough gym to play in so that’s their home court advantage, so when a place like this feels so neutral, it’s better for us to play here.”
Northern also feels he and his team-mates can get make it in to the top eight with their confidence right now, but Davis knows there’s still hurdles to clear before facing up to either the first or second placed sides.
“We’re trying to focus on one game at a time, and a few things are out of our control right now but if we go down, we go down fighting. Our focus now is on the game at hand when we play on the day.”