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WATCH: Cheshire Phoenix new signing Martyn Gayle on surprise loss to Leeds Force

Nix suffer blow in BBL top-four battle after falling to 78-76 loss at the hands of struggling Yorkshire side

Any lingering hopes of Cheshire Phoenix lifting the BBL Championship title this season were all but extinguished on Sunday night as John Coffino's men fell to a bitterly disappointing home reverse to second-bottom Leeds Force despite a late rally.

In truth it would take an almighty stumble from runaway leaders Newcastle Eagles to stop them claiming the crown, but last night's 76-78 defeat to Leeds was a blow to the Nix's chances of making second spot their own going into the end of season play-offs.

The Nix had started the weekend in the best possible fashion, overcoming traffic delays and just minutes of warm-up time to seal a 109-81 success at Surrey United on Friday, where they handed a debut to UK guard Martyn Gayle, who was last with the Manchester Giants in January.

David Aliu paced the visitors scorers as he hit 27 points in a convincing triumph while, for the hosts, former Cheshire swingman Dominique Coleman poured in 37 points to demonstrate his class.

But on Sunday at the Northgate Arena Coffino's men failed to break down a resilient and determined Force defence, with head coach Matt Newby's men, paced by the excellent James McCann with 25 points, executing a perfect game plan to thwart the home side in their bid to claim the head-to-head for the season.

Coffino said: "There were a lot of upset guys in that locker room. They know they didn't deserve to win.

"From me on down it was a poor effort. But we'll regroup as we know we have a tough road ahead. It's always tough to lose at home but they deserved to win and that's the bottom line.

"We didn't have one guy that could get going. You know, we have a lot of weapons but we didn't have one person that was stepping up. But we'll get it going.

"We allowed them to run their stuff and they're a very well coached team. We are a lot better when we get the ball inside and we have a lot of great shooters but we have to get the ball inside to Demond (Watt) and David (Aliu).

"I'm not overly concerned but it was a blown opporunity for us as Worcester lost so I'm upset about that but we'll be alright. They (Leeds) get all the credit."

Leeds have been no pushovers in their first season in the BBL but few would have expected their to be too much for the Nix to worry about when Taylor King drove easily to the basket for the first points of the game.

But Leeds shut down the usually prolific Nix scorers of Watt, King, Mike DiNunno and Dustin Salisbery and limited the home side to just 27 points to their 40 at the half-time break.

While the Nix were being stymied in their efforts to haul themselves back into the game, McCann was given the freedom to drive to the basket all too regularly while Darrel Bethune and Branimir Mikulic were finding their range from beyond the arc as Leeds continued to stretch their advantage into the fourth quarter.

The Nix looked dead and buried when they were down 21 points with the midway point of the fourth quarter approaching but, as has been the case on numerous occasions this season, hit top gear down the stretch and made an unlikely play for victory.

Roared on by a crowd that sensed a Herculean effort in overturning such a large deficit in such a short space of time, the Nix finally found the ability to shut down the Force offence and King, DiNunno, Aliu and Watt all managed to find their touch as the home side allowed just four points in the final five minutes of the match.

When Taylor King hit a big three to make it a one-point ball game with 40 seconds left, the home faithful were in full voice and few would have bet against the Nix coming up with the clutch play to take the game.

But after a couple of trips to the line for each side, the Nix had the final possession with 16 seconds left and, needing a two to tie it or a three to claim the win, an off balance DiNunno got his three ball away slightly early and saw it cannon back of the rim and grabbed by the Force to seal an impressive win for the away side.

It would have been harsh on Leeds had DiNunno's three been knocked down, with Newby's side deserving of their success after executing an excellent game plan and catching Cheshire cold.

The defeat leaves the Nix fourth but, with Worcester Wolves falling to a surprise loss to Glasgow Rocks, it represented a golden opportunity missed to strengthen their position in the top fourt. Next up, a trip to Durham Wildcats on Friday night (7.30pm). An improvement will be needed.

Coffino added: "We have to focus on Durham. It will be interesting to see how our guys react to this loss. We always put the last game behind us whether it's a win or a loss. But fortunately for us it has been a lot more wins than losses so we have been on a bit more of an even keel.

"But let's look in the mirror and see what we did wrong individually. Durham are a good side. I went to see them play last night (Saturday) against Leicester (Riders) and they almost beat them. We are going on the road and playing another good team so it will be a big challenge but we'll be up for it."


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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