AFTER hitting rock bottom at the Northgate Arena last week, the Cheshire Jets looked like a team reborn on Sunday evening as they showed maturity, skill and heart to claim another vital head-to-head, this time over the Guildford Heat.
On Friday the Jets got the ball rolling with a close 78-72 victory at Sheffield Sharks, but they still had a lot to prove to their home support after their dismal display against Worcester Wolves.
But a week is a long time in basketball and the Jets were unrecognisable from last week's team as they took the game to the Heat and clocked up win number two to put themselves into the play-off spots thanks to the head-to-heads they have already won.
Despite the Heat drawing first blood Kai Williams and Adam Brown hit some good shots to maintain the momentum the Jets built on Friday night at the Sharks.
The Jets did not start against the Heat without problems however. Skipper Colin O'Reilly was only cleared to play five minutes before the tip-off after a stomach bug made him sick before the match and again at half-time.
He was clearly not himself but dug deep to pull his weight and keep it together for the team and Bill Cole looked unaffected by his injured ankle, which was heavily strapped.
Matt Schneck rediscovered the beast within though and he hit the Heat hard at every opportunity, giving their big men not a moment's rest.
At the end of the first quarter the Jets trailed by five points 23-18 but there was an electricity in the air that has been absent for much of this campaign – a sense that the Jets crowd believed the team they saw before them could take this match.
They were not wrong. Schneck earned back the moniker 'bull in the paint' in the second quarter as he monstered the opposition.
He went in at half-time having already secured a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds in the half. The Jets still trailed by three at the midway point but there was not an ounce of defeatism in the air as the Heat looked like a side unwilling to fight for the points, preferring instead to resort to complaining to the officials, a sign – as the Jets were well aware after their problems against Worcester – that the game is getting away from you.
It was the third period that saw the Jets establish full control of the game. Adam Brown switched gears and made some great play calls on the fly as well as bringing some individual flair to proceedings as the Jets ended the session on a 15-0 run to lead 61-58 going into the last quarter.
Heat coach Creon Raftopoulos tried everything to get his team back into the game but in the end the wind was with the Jets and the coach was lucky not to receive a technical foul after a series of warnings about his conduct on the line.
The Heat's desperation was summed up when, as the visitors only trailed by three points, Julius Joseph rugby-tackled Brown from behind in mid-air before protesting to the referees that there was no foul committed.
There was and Brown made them pay with two free-throws. In fact Brown made them pay full stop with a huge 30-point game to lead the scorers, while Schneck could be pleased with his 17 points and 19 rebounds, including 12 defensive rebounds, and Kai Williams clocked up 13 points, including shooting a couple from downtown to take the three-point pressure off the ailing O'Reilly as the Jets won 80-75
John Lavery indicated the performance was the type he expected every week form his side, but admitted that with the challenges they have faced and the disappointment of last weekend, the reaction of his players was a huge positive.
“It's another win, it's one foot into the play-offs but we're not getting carried away. We've got five games left so we've got to knuckle down and practice and see if we can got up to Leicester and get a win there.
“Adam had a good game, he top scored with 30 points and he ran the team well down the stretch. Five minutes before tip Colin had his head down the toilet, at half-time he was being sick but he came out and did a fairly good job.
“When you're losing it's hard to get your head down and come out and practice hard but you get a couple of wins under your belt and team spirits are high and everybody's enthusiastic and it shows on court so hopefully we can push on from these two wins.
“Hopefully these games give us momentum going forward but we're not getting carried away, it's only two wins so we've just got to make sure we continue and push forward for our next five games.”
Lavery also offered praise to his strongmen on court, Cole, Schneck and Williams as they all punched their weight in an oft-times physical encounter.
“Guildford are a good transition team and we knew they would want to push the ball on us, particularly with Drew Lasker on point, so we just focused on keeping him in front of us and getting stops to push the ball back at them because I believe we are one of the fittest teams in the league.
“We only run a small rotation but these guys put it in week in and week out in practice and it shows. This team has a never-say-die attitude.”