Cheshire Phoenix made it back-to-back wins over the London Lions with a 103-97 victory at the Northgate Arena on Sunday night.
Picking up home and away wins meant Phoenix claimed a vital head-to-head in the fight for fifth spot as the playoffs loom.
In the first quarter, Donatas Visockis led the charge for the home side, but Vince Macaulay’s Lions arrived in Chester aggressive and determined to restrict the efforts of Reggie Middleton, with initial success as the point guard racked up three fouls early in the period.
Former Phoenix favourite, Chez Marks and Adrien Sturt brought the scores to just a single point close to the end of play, but Victor Moses jammed it home for a slender 26-23 advantage.
However, the Lions came out with vigour in the second, and on a 14-3 run over the first five minutes the momentum shift was clear to see.
Out-rebounding the Nix more than 2 to 1, and pulling down 15 offensive boards, with 20 second chance points to boot, a 12 point game-high lead for the visitors was capped off with a vintage three from Marks, although Devan Bailey reduced that back to eight before half-time at 40-48.
What was to ensue after the break, was possibly one of the most clinical quarters this season at home for the ‘Nix.
Marks restored a ten point lead, but it was Middleton who turned the intensity up a notch, his foot speed increasing, more power driving inside, leaving Lions trailing in his wake – doubling his points tally for the whole first half in just three minutes.
Such was the frustration, Macaulay’s anger at the sidelines resulted in a technical foul, allowing Dominique Coleman to drain both free throws and close the gap to just a point at 55-56.
Bailey retook the lead for the home side moments later, but was to leave the game and take a trip to hospital with what is believed to be a dislocated shoulder.
The onslaught from Cheshire continued though, Coleman delivering from deep after Kramer Knutson had tied the scores. The crowd at the Northgate were in fine voice soon after as a fast break saw Coleman only just keep the ball in play, Creppy coming out with the fumbled ball and fouled on the way to the basket.
With foul trouble for London, John Lavery’s men turned the screw, and by the end of the third, a 20 point swing had played out in less than ten minutes, 80-70.
A 10-2 burst from Lions, with eight points from Sturt, in the final period brought the scores back to one possession briefly, but the ‘Nix held on and jus as the previous stanza, played the game out from the line as Lions desperately tried to haul the home side back.
However, 103-97 was how proceedings finished and Phoenix now with the advantage for fifth place, and what is increasingly looking at being a quarter-final clash with Leicester Riders in the post-season.
Reggie Middleton top-scored for Cheshire with 29 points, with Rod Brown taking 24 points for the visitors. There were also double-doubles for Visockis (17pts/10rbs) and Mike Martin (12pts/11rbs).
Coach Lavery felt he needed to deliver a bold message to his charges at the break after a dismal performance to end the half, and it certainly worked out for the Phoenix: “We started well, we didn’t really have a great second quarter, they came out hard and strong which we expected and obviously they take a half time lead.
“We talked about what we needed to do and where we needed to be – the focus was on being mentally strong and wanting it more than they did. In that third quarter, we came out strong, it was pleasing that we played for the whole ten minutes of that quarter; play for those ten, go hard, regroup, and go again – we did a fantastic job with that.
“We expected a hard game, there was a lot to play for, whoever won took the head-to-head, which is probably going to decide where we finish in the league. We knew they were going to come out hard after we turned them over on Friday at their place.”