Coach Paul James was left a relieved man after watching his new-look Worcester Wolves roar back from a double-figure deficit to edge out Cheshire Phoenix in a ferocious 88-85 overtime thriller on Friday.
“We certainly did things the hard way,” admitted James. “Our offense was horrible for three quarters but I kept telling the players that we just needed one good quarter. That’s what we got in the last period, allowing us to go on to a great overtime win.”
The positive momentum gained from a perfect pre-season record carried over into the beginning of Worcester’s British Basketball League season-opener. A pinpoint assist from Marek Klassen found Trevor Setty unmarked beneath the hoop to get the scoreboard ticking.
Just two minutes had elapsed when a thunderous slam from power forward Jermel Kennedy left Wolves 8-0 in front and Cheshire calling for an urgent time out.
It would take until the fifth minute for Cheshire’s first basket from the field, taken by Great Britain squad member Jamell Anderson. Now ignited, the visitors rolled forward to level matters at 19-19 towards the close of the initial quarter.
By midway through the second period Phoenix had the lead at 26-27. Now finding it difficult to drive inside, Wolves gave priority to outside shooting. The usually-prolific Danny Huffor went astray on all six of his three-point attempts as his team struggled to a 37-43 half-time deficit.
Things went from bad to worse after the interval with shots repeatedly failing to fall. Just two successful three-pointers from an incredible 29 attempts contributed to ever-widening arrears.
Cheshire’s advantage maximised at 51-67 with nine minutes remaining. A double of baskets for Kennedy gave hope at 63-71. A triple from Andrew Bachman and another success for Kennedy had Phoenix rattled.
Bachman scored again and stole the ball to set up Huffor and seal a stunning 10-0 burst. By 14 seconds to play the match was tied at 78-78. Cheshire fumbled their last possession, leaving Huffor to hurl a length-of-the-court shot that clanged off the rim, leading to five minutes of added time.
A chest-beating Setty had a big University of Worcester Arena crowd on their feet as he danced to the opening overtime points. Bachman finalised his inspirational evening with the deciding triple for the 88-85 victory.
Kennedy and Bachman led the scoring with 23 and 20 points respectively, followed by Setty with 17.
Though scoring only four points, Klassen stood out in the statistics with 12 rebounds and 15 assists. Paul James applauded his players’ efforts: “Andrew and Jermel were particularly impressive, as was Marek. That’s why Marek is here – to distribute the ball and get everyone involved. How many other point guards in this league will be able to put up rebound and assist numbers like that?”
Over the contest, Wolves garnered just eight successes from a whopping 43 long-distance attempts. Asked if there was a point when he decided to call a halt to the outside shooting, James replied; “You live by the three, you die by the three. Yes, it did look at one point tonight that we would die by it, but it’s going to be a big feature of our game this year. We stuck with it and finally settled down and toughed out the win.”
Wolves will now travel to Leicester Riders on Sunday (tip off 4pm), before returning to the University of Worcester Arena next Friday to greet Sheffield Sharks.
“Hopefully we won’t shoot as poorly again, and we’ll give Leicester a run for their money,” added James. “Our fans were terrific today, getting louder and louder as we came back into the game. That was what we needed to help us through to the win. That same support again against Sheffield will be fabulous.”