AN UNBELIEVEABLE buzzer-beating shot sparked a controversial finish as one of the fiercest rivalries in British basketball was revived after an 11-year hiatus at the Northgate Arena.
Cheshire v Manchester Giants was one of the biggest fixtures on the BBL calendar until, 11 years ago, the Giants pulled out of the BBL Championship mid-season bringing the series to an end.
Revived under Jeff Jones the Giants returned to the Northgate to face a Jets side in the midst of their own survival battle and there were plenty who thought this would provide the Mancunians with their first road victory of the season – especially after the Jets released forward Kenny Moore last week.
But the Jets, who allowed fans to vote on a potential new name at the game, had other ideas.
After falling behind to an early Giants run the Jets found themselves unable to reel their visitors in before the end of the first quarter and trailed 24-17 after 10 minutes.
The second quarter was the turning point as Alif Bland took charge and bore he weight of restoring parity with some tough work for the Jets in the paint.
But midway through the quarter it became the Chez Marks show. The stand-in player-coach nailed his second triple of the game to become the BBL's all-time leading three-point scorer and suddenly became hot, quickly scoring a second.
When half time came the Jets led 42-39 and after the break the Jets quickly stretched their lead to 46-40.
Helsby's Devan Bailey, Ben Eaves and David Watts kept the Giants in touch before a stoppage for treatment to Bailey for a back injury disrupted the game and allowed the Jets to regroup and extend their lead again.
Marks retained his three-point shooting game and following two battling rebounds by Chris Pearce nailed another to put the Jets nine-up and Pierce himself dropped in a double at the end of the quarter to make it 65-58 to the Jets going into the fourth.
Again Marks opened with a triple and Pearce starred once more when he chased a break by the Giants and rose up to powerfully reject a shot from big man Watts – Superman-style – which got the swollen crowd on their feet.
The drama was not over however, as the Giants found their groove and, led by the scoring of Stefan Gill, managed to go into the final 25 seconds with a one-point lead, 81-80.
The pressure was on and the volume was rising in the Northgate as Marks took the ball around the perimeter and with 11 seconds to go drove in to lay up a winning shot.
That effort was swatted out and as the clock ran down Marks chased the ball, turned off balance, put up a shot without looking from downtown and as the buzzer went watched as it dropped in clean.
It was the most incredible shot to win a pulsating and passionate game but the result could not be immediately celebrated as Giants' head coach Jones appealed to the table officials and refs to restart the game as he felt he had asked for a timeout with seconds on the clock.
His protests were refused however, allowing the Jets, in possibly their last game with that nickname, to celebrate a memorable victory.
Marks finished with 31pts and six rebounds while Alif Bland and Shawn Myers both scored double-doubles with 22pts and 11 rebounds for Bland and 11pts, 11 rebounds for veteran Myers, Gabe Haskins adding 15pts.
Afterwards breathless assistant Jets coach Matt Lloyd said: “That wasn't in the playbook! What a finish.
“It shouldn't have been that close. We were up by about 10 with about six or seven minutes to go and we started to try and take the time out of the clock which took us out of our rhythm.
“We also turned the ball over a bit in the fourth but turnovers are always costly, no matter when they happen.
“In the paint we were much stronger though. It's something we've worked on all week in training on protecting our paint, creating our own area where we can generate our own rebounds and we came out and created that area and that fuelled our offence really well.
“But it's just good to get a W.”