Cheshire Phoenix remain in the hunt for the BBL Championship title after they produced one of the performances of the season to crush second-placed Worcester Wolves at the Northgate Arena on Sunday night.
With the Nix lying in fourth spot in the league going into the clash, six points behind the Wolves but with two games in hand, head coach John Coffino's men looked every inch title contenders as they moved up through the gears in a blistering third quarter spell before putting the visitors to the sword in ruthless fashion in the fourth to register a 89-75 success.
Demond Watt, matched up against fellow league MVP candidate Robert Thurman, shook off his recent injury woes and dominated the court, showing why he is regarded the finest player in British basketball at present with a 25-point haul, which included a 100% record from the free-throw line from 13 trips to the charity stripe. He also pulled down nine defensive boards as he bossed proceedings.
His efforts were ably supported by an impressive double-double from Taylor King of 22 points and 10 rebounds while Dustin Salisbery continued to show just why Coffino was so keen to bring him to Cheshire as the former Temple University graduate drained 23 points.
The Nix had a full roster available for the visit of Paul James' men, with Mike DiNunno, starting on the bench, suiting up for the home side for the first time since the win at Leeds Force on January 23, with his reported internal dispute now seemingly resolved.
Both sides went blow for blow in the opening quarter as the opposing offences were firing on all cylinders with the Nix just shading it 23-22 in the opening 10 minutes.
The Wolves, boasting a fearsome roster that included new signing Paul Guede and standout performers Alex Owumi, Jamal Williams and Chavis Holmes, came out strongly in the second and pulled five clear of the home side midway through.
But some solid defence, accompanied by some impressive work in the paint by Watt and David Aliu, hauled the Nix back into the driving seat at the end of the half, with Coffino's men up 45-41.
In a pulsating clash it was nip and tuck at the beginning of the third until the home side put together an 11-0 scoring run to create some clear daylight between themselves and Worcester, whose main offensive weapon inside, Thurman, was being kept silenced by Watt while their perimeter shooters were finding it equally as tough against a well-drilled home defence.
Smelling blood, the Nix went for the jugular in the fourth and blew the Wolves apart with a stunning display that brought a noisy Northgate crowd to its feet.
Some big plays from Salisbery and King from beyond the arc added the icing on the cake for Coffino's charges, who had led by 21 points as the tie neared it's conclusion, while the Wolves lost Guede and Owumi late on after they both picked up their fifth personal fouls.
The win cemented their position in fourth and gave their chances of home advantage in the end-of-season play-offs a huge boost, but such was the manner of their triumph, few would bet against them making a late charge for Championship honours, with leaders Newcastle Eagles still to play the Nix twice and facing tough tests against Leicester Riders and the Wolves before the season draws to a close.
"Our guys raised their game against a team that is in second place and probably the second best team in the league," said Coffino.
"To be honest I think we wore them down a little bit and got them in foul trouble with our aggressiveness. Our defence that we put in in the middle of the third quarter was similar to the Bristol (Flyers) game and I believe in it and the guys have really bought into it.
"They (Nix) are a team of perseverance and a team that is destined to get to that mountain top. To have 16 wins at this point is good but we are not content."
Coffino has now turned his attention to the trip to Plymouth University Raiders on Sunday (4pm) with the Nix aiming to exact revenge on Jay Marriott's side after they dumped them out of the BBL Trophy live on BBL TV last month with a phenomenal display of three-point shooting.
He added: "We know there are 14 more game and the next one is the biggest one. Plymouth is the biggest game of the year, there is no doubt about it. They embarrassed us down there on national television so we have to be prepared."
Star man: Demond Watt
Watt has been in stunning form for Cheshire since arriving at the club in pre-season, with the Chicagoan one of only two senior players to remain from the original line up that took to the court in the Nix opening game of the season.
Against Worcester looked hungry to be on the winning side from tip-off. Matched up against Thurman, one of the best players in the BBL, Watt owned the inside at both ends and his defensive presence was felt by the visitors.
He also shot an unbelievable 100% from the free-throw line, making 13 from 13 while he was equally as impressive from the field, making 86% and leading all scorers with 25 points. The best player in the league hands down.
All scorers: Watt 25pts, Salisbery 23pts, King 22pts, Aliu 10pts, DiNunno 4pts, Naydenov 3pts, Sturt 2pts