Play-off worries were put to one side as the Cheshire Phoenix booked a semi final tie against Sheffield Sharks in the BBL Trophy with a 45-point blow-out of National League side Worthing Thunder.
Just 24 hours after their loss to London Lions, the Phoenix arrived at Worthing Leisure Centre for their quarter final match focused on the task at hand and Jerome Gumbs in particular led the line, scoring 18 points and claiming five rebounds in the first half.
Such stats were evidence of the experience coach Matt Lloyd's Phoenix brought to the game, against a spirited Worthing side. Kadiri Richard and Joe Carter both led Worthing with 14 points with the former adding nine rebounds and four blocks to his statline. Rhys Francis got 11 points and three steals and was proud of how Thunder stood up to the challenge: "This game was no doubt a freebie for us, no-one expected us to beat Mersey Tigers and come this far in the Trophy and despite losing, we showed Cheshire no fear and we played our hearts out."
Gumbs went on to lead all scorers for the Phoenix as he posted a double-double 25 points and 11 rebounds. Chez Marks quietly hit 23 points while dishing out seven assists.
Cheshire started the game on fire, as they hit Thunder in transition and scored at will as Worthing’s big men were restricted early on before Kadiri Richard had a simple lay-up to reduce Phoenix’s lead to single-digits at 11-2 just after a timeout from head coach Dan Hildreth.Hank Rivers scored inside to reduce the deficit a little more but Phoenix, led by Gumbs, hit 12 points in the first 10 minutes as the BBL side led the first quarter 22-12.Rhys Francis went coast-to-coast following a rejection on Myers from Tomas Seidukis and a three-pointer from Bud Johnston reduced the gap further to 24-17, but the visitors hit back with an 8-0 burst to take a 32-17 advantage and make the game virtually safe.
Hildreth called a timeout but it had little effect as the Phoenix continued attacking the hoop, shooting 61 percent from the field and taking a 47-23 lead at half-time.Myers and Gabe Haskins struck to start the third quarter and extend Cheshire’s lead out to 52-23 before Bud Johnston hit a deep three in reply for the hosts.
No matter what Thunder tried, the visitors scored frequently and a 10-2 burst over a period of three minutes gave them a commanding 69-28 cushion before Richard answered back for Thunder.While Cheshire coach Matt Lloyd was demanding that his players reach 100 points in the final quarter, Hildreth was shouting not to give Cheshire easy looks and to be aggressive and that's what happened.
The Phoenix tried to ease off a little but with Julian Stanley and Josh Brown on the floor for the first time, they had to work hard. Brown got the biggest cheer of the night as he drained a three from the top in the quarter’s early stages but Marks quickly replied with a three of his own from the baseline.Phoenix did get to 100 with a minute remaining and a technical foul on Richard put the victors over the triple-figure mark as time expired.
“We played a good, professional game," said Lloyd. "We played together, which is something we’ve been looking to do for a long time and that performance showed what we can do in future games."Worthing did themselves proud tonight and flew the flag for EBL Division One basketball well. They have great youngsters that have a lot of promise for the future. They have guys that won’t disgrace themselves in the future and I believe they will finish strong in the EBL.
"Jerome had a very good first half and led the team from the front. He played good team basketball and all his shots were good shots, they were good decisions and overall it was a good, all-round showing."
Phoenix captain Marks now has his sights set on the final.
“We treated Worthing like we do with every other team," he said. "Worthing were up for it, they’re a great team and they came out and played hard. We had to bounce back from the tough loss to London Lions last night but we knew we had to come out, play hard, play together and now we are in the semi-finals and we have as good of a chance as any of making it to the final."