THE people of Cheshire roared their side into the semi-finals of the BBL Play-offs by creating the best atmosphere the Northgate Arena has experienced this season against Worcester Wolves.
John Lavery's charges delivered a fantastic performance as they weathered a brutal physical storm unleashed by Paul James' men, but hard work and ingenuity triumphed over the blunt force of the Wolves as the Jets booked a meeting with the Newcastle Eagles in the final four.
Saturday night saw the first leg of the clash end all square at 80-80 but after Matt Schneck's early exit in that game, Lavery said he called in a performance from his bullish centre, who responded with 19 points.
“I said to Matt 'you owe me one from last night',” said the Jets head coach. “'You've got to come out and play hard' and to be fair, the guy was outstanding tonight.
“He had the better of Richie Gordon tonight who, in my opinion, will finish runner-up in the MVP of the league, so Matt stepped up big time tonight and did a really great job as all the guys did. It was a team performance and all the guys came out and did a really good job.”
The stage was set for a real display of unity by the Jets. Fans turned up at the Northgate sporting Team Mohawk hairstyles or wigs and Nathan Schall and Jason Helsby joined the growing band of players adopting the unique look.
A packed arena saw the Jets come out of the blocks hard as they stretched out an early seven-point lead.
But the Wolves quickly began to reveal their gameplan. As the ball headed out of play Tommy Freeman tried to keep it in but instead of trying to find a team-mate he threw the ball at Colin O'Reilly, who was lying on the floor having slipped trying to keep the ball in himself.
It was the first in a series of blatant unsportsmanlike incidents from the Wolves that went virtually unpunished by the officials.
Towards the end of the quarter as the scores closed up Freeman had another dig at O'Reilly as the Jets captain won a defensive rebound but Williams delivered a statement of intent seconds later form the home side as the versatile Canadian sent down a very deep three-pointer to give the Jets a slender advantage.
In the second half the Jets moved the ball well and executed their shots with style, maintaining their lead underlined by a drive from outside the arc by Matt Schneck which ended with a hard dunk that got the whole arena on it's feet.
It wouldn't be the last time the fans were lifted out of their seats.
By half time the Jets led 44-40 but the Wolves were about to make things a bit more ugly.
A couple of minutes into the third period Adam Brown, who put up 31 points against the Wolves the previous night, suffered a seemingly accidental poke to the eye.
But on the next play he was hit hard by Arnas Kazlauskas and a couple of seconds later he was laid out on the court floor by Tommy Freeman.
It became painfully obvious that the Wolves were rotating their players to target Brown physically to hurt him out of the game, but the resilient Texan refused to be bowed by their bullying tactics and got up to drive his team on.
The Wolves did close things up a lot in the third however, and at 58-58 Freeman, who was given free reign by the officials, was allowed to get away with a flagrant offensive foul on Kai Williams to give the Wolves a two-point lead going into the final period.
The Jets were not beaten yet however, and a huge put-back dunk from Williams early in the session was exactly what the Jets needed to lift the team and the crowd.
He hit a triple straight after and O'Reilly, who finished with a double-double 22pts 10 rebounds, did likewise to put the Jets back in control.
Brown went on a little scoring run and Matt Schneck, bossing Gordon, also chipped in.
Gordon eventually fouled out with three minutes to go and the Wolves were struggling.
Leading 85-77 the Jets won a series of offensive rebounds to run the clock down and at the death Bill Cole (14pts) hit two clutch free throws to secure a 10-point victory for the hosts.
It sets up a tie with the Eagles, with the away leg taking place in Friday, May 4 and then return leg next Sunday at the Northgate.
Afterwards Lavery was full of praise for his team, who seem capable of beating anyone, even the league champions, at this point.
“We come out as an underdog but we played hard for 80 minutes over the two legs and every one of those guys in that locker room has done a god job.
“Even the guys who didn't get on court, it's about what they put in in practice every week to get us to where we want to be tonight and we're pretty proud of what we've put over the last two days.
“Last time we played the Wolves here they turned us over by 30 points, this time we've come away with a 10-point victory. It could have been a little bit more, we switched off a couple of times during the game but we have a never-say-die attitude, we never give up, we keep on pushing everybody and the players keep pushing themselves and their team-mates to achieve what we want to do.”
Coach Lavery also commented on the treatment Brown received at the hands of the Wolves.
“Adam is having an absolutely fantastic couple of months,” he said. “The guy had 31 points last night and they probably thought he was the man to stop but we have so many weapons on the floor, any of my guys can put 20 or 30 points up on the scoreboard on any given night.”
And again pushed on whether he was any closer to joining Team Mohawk, Lavery made a commitment.
“If we go to the final, if we win the final, John Lavery will come out with a Mohawk,” he pledged.