Cheshire Phoenix opened up their BBL campaign with a thrilling 82-80 win at home to Surrey Scorchers on Sunday night.
In a topsy-turvy encounter that had seen Cheshire open up a 30-9 lead after the end of the first quarter, Surrey battled back and looked to be heading for a narrow win until Malcolm Riley drained for three from beyond the arc with seconds remaining to seal the victory in front of a vocal home crowd at the Ellesmere Port Sports Village.
The Phoenix offensive effort lead by a superb 26-point haul from point guard Robert Sandoval while Raheem May-Thompson weighed in with 17, Riley 16 and CJ Gettys 14.
And head coach Ben Thomas was pleased with his team’s effort, although disappointed that they allowed Surrey back into the contest after a storming first quarter.
“We won the first quarter 30-9 but we took our foot off the pedal and went away from what got us that lead,” said Thomas.
“We weren’t playing with the same intensity defensively, and offensively we weren’t playing team basketball.
“One thing I have highlighted with this unit is the team chemistry and togetherness. Today’s game was a clear example of what team chemistry can do. There was no blaming each other and no problems inside our unit. We just weren’t getting the looks. That team chemistry paid dividends.
“It’s not the prettiest of wins but it is the first win of the season and I’m hoping for many more.
“Without that noise (from the crowd) they (Surrey) would have made a couple more shots when they were on fire and you made it difficult for them to score. That gave us the opportunity to go on and get the win.”
Having lead 30-9 at the end of the first, Cheshire were on the back foot in the second and gave up the quarter 29-10, holding a slender 40-38 lead at the break.
Surrey, lead by the scoring of Tony Hicks (23) rallied and took charge of the contest, leading 63-59 at the end of the third.
And when Alex Owumi drained the triple to make it 80-75 to the visitors they looked to be home and dry, but an over-and-back turnover followed by an unsportsmanlike foul allowed Cheshire back into the game and they took their chance when a drive to the basket from Sandoval was kicked out to debutant Riley who showed ice in his veins to sink the clutch shot.