Sunday 3rd March- Surrey Sports Park
Surrey Heat put a poor February behind them with an 87-78 victory over Cheshire Phoenix as they look to march towards a top-four finish.
Despite his side’s first win in five league games, Creon Raftopoulos was not overwhelmed by Surrey‘s display, particularly on the defensive end:
“We’re happy to get the victory but I’m not thrilled by the performance against an under-manned Cheshire team. We need to get back to play and playing good defence for the whole game and not just in spurts like today,” said Heat‘s head-coach.
The visiting Phoenix were once again without Chez Marks and Jerome Gumbs but their player-coach Matt Lloyd was pleased with how his depleted side coped. Gabe Haskins, Shawn Myers, Stuart Thomson and Chris Pearce all played the full 40 minutes while Alif Bland only sat out for 1:25 due to foul trouble.
Lloyd said: “We did a great job considering we were missing our two leading scorers and by playing hard we managed to stay with them throughout. There’s been some really good performances of late, against Newcastle and Leicester, but it was tough with Jerome (Gumbs) being ill and Chez (Marks) family bereavement and our thoughts are with him and his family.”
Bland opened the game with a block on Chavis Holmes but Cheshire‘s offence was slow to get going and it was the home side who rushed out to a 7-2 start. However, Haskins scored seven points including a triple to cap a 12-0 run to force Raftopoulos into a time-out. His side responded with the final six points of the quarter but they still trailed 14-13.
The lead crept back up to seven points as Bland took his tally to 11 points early on in the second before Surrey compiled a pivotal 17-1 tear to take control. Frank Holmes added six points during the run to join Travis on 10 points at half-time where they led 38-32 after a deep three from Haskins ending the second quarter scoring.
When play resumed, Surrey strenghtened their grip on the game with the first ten points of the third before Pearce ended Cheshire’s baron start to the second half with a 3-pointer almost three and a minutes into the quarter. Albert Margai and Thomson traded scores from beyond the arc as the gap peaked at 17 points before the ‘Nix rallied for a 10-2 run which contained a spectacular tip-in dunk from Myers from a missed free throw from Thomson. A late steal and dunk from Pearce gave Cheshire hope of victory as they were down 63-54 heading into the final quarter.
Julius Joseph took over at the start of the fourth with a personal 9-2 run to take his points tally to 20 as the hosts increased their lead to 18 points for the first time. Once again, Cheshire continued to battle and gradually begin to reduce their arrears with Thomson beginning to get hot from long range. The former Worcester and Manchester forward struck twice from downtown in a 10-2 burst for the visitors to haul Cheshire to within 6 points at 82-76 with 1:34 left. It was as close as they were to get as Surrey ran down the clock before ending the game with 3/4 successful free throws to seal the victory.
Frank Holmes and namesake Travis top scored for Surrey with 22 points each while Joseph contributed a vital 20 point haul in just over 21 minutes of action off the bench. Chavis Holmes dished out 12 assists with Raftopoulos happy with how his point guards ‘controlled the game’. Haskins was the orchestrator for Phoenix and collected 20 points via a number of well executed shots. Bland (19pts/13rbs) and Myers (14pts/13rbs) contributed double-doubles while Thomson made 4-8 from 3-PT range on his way to 16 points.
The teams meet twice again this month in a spell Creon has targeted as a chance to push for a top four finish.
Raftopoulos said: “We’ve targeted this mini-series as important to push on for the top four spot. The way the system is, I don’t mind what position we finish in as long as we have momentum going into he play-offs and hopefully we can kick on now Travis (Holmes) is getting back in the flow of things.”
NEXT UP: HEAT– @ Newcastle 08/03/13; v Mersey 10/03/13; v Leicester 16/03/13. PHOENIX– v Worcester 10/03/13; @ Sheffield 15/03/13; v Surrey 17/03/13.
Surrey should beat Mersey but face a tough trip to Newcastle beforehand before hosting the league leaders in 2 weeks time. 1 win in 3 most likely. Cheshire have a tough run-in but four of their last six games are at home and that could be key to getting into the play-offs. If they get Marks and Gumbs back soon then they could surprise the Wolves or Heat at home whilst travelling to Sheffield for a massive game. Again, I win in 3 is probably most likely.
There were only three other games in the league this weekend with Newcastle kicking off the action on Friday with an emphatic 100-57 win on the road against Mersey to tie Leicester on points. On Sunday, Glasgow claimed outright third place with an 88-66 win over Durham, who saw their play-off hopes fade. The final game was a key play-off clash and London Lions came out the victors beating Trophy finalists Sheffield, 86-78 to move six points clear of the Sharks. Rod Brown made an impressive debut for the London side with 15 points and nine assists following his recent move from the Plymouth Raiders.