This is the final instalment of the Jets 2011/12 season review written by roving reporter Rob Jefferies..hope it has brought back memories of a roller-coaster of a season.
Take it away Rob…….
A nervous first quarter was soon forgotten about as Colin O’Reilly being shooting like there was no tomorrow from all over the court, and soon a double-digit lead was lighting up the scoreboard in the Northgate. Doing exactly the right job on defence, a 14 point lead for the Jets going into the break gave them a real boost. For some, the fact Glasgow having already qualified in fifth for the play-offs might have meant they weren’t giving it their all, but there was no question of that, as proved in the final two quarters, but the shooting of O’Reilly held firm and was enough to subdue any fightback from Glasgow.
Finishing up 80-68, it was time to celebrate the moment of having qualified for the play-offs, however there was still the possibility that with two wins on the table, that sixth place was on the cards. Standing in the way though were the BBL Championship winners, Newcastle Eagles and Sheffield Sharks, for the last remaining head-to-head.
After the game brought about the birth of #TeamMohawk. It began with Colin, Adam and Bill, but soon was to progress throughout the side and build a quite unexpected following.
With Newcastle having already claimed top spot in the BBL Championship (and 1st seed in the play-offs), they were facing three losses on the bounce as the Jets visited Sport Central in the North East. With Joe Chapman, Andrew Thomson and Charles Smith all seemingly rested, it was the perfect opportunity for Cheshire to mix up the final league standings; and they were not to disappoint. A stunning 96-81 victory may be perceived as not something to shout about against a weakened Eagles side, but the effort and level of performance was making others around the league realise #TeamMohawk could be the real deal in the play-offs.
The final game of the regular season was set to be a clash for sixth place, and ultimately a greater chance of progression into the final. Sheffield Sharks were the visitors to the Northgate Arena, and a long historic rivalry was about to be ignited yet again.
The lead changed hands thanks to runs by both teams, and once the Jets had got their heads around Sheffield’s defence, it was time for the floodgates to open as the home side put on an outstanding performance for the fans in the last two quarters. A monumental score of 98-77 secured sixth place, and also affirmed that #TeamMohawk were the form side coming into the play-offs, losing only one of their last seven matches. On the night there were double-doubles from Kai Williams and Matt Schneck, but to cap it off in style was a rare triple-double from Colin O’Reilly.
No matter the result, Jets were faced with the predicament of facing a side they had not beaten all season, either Leicester or Worcester. Finishing sixth meant set up a quarter-final against the Wolves.
The first leg produced a somewhat freak result, that only occurs in play-off formats such as the one used in the BBL. An 80-80 draw away at Worcester left everything to hang in the balance, however shortly after the start of the fourth quarter Cheshire were 14 points ahead, but a scoring rampage from Sherrad Prezzie-Blue and Tommy Freeman for Wolves helped them stay in the tie. Nathan Schall, who in the latter stages of the season was making good progress was also given plenty of minutes as Matt Schneck racked up the foul count early on, and Schall’s efforts were much needed when it mattered.
Returning to the Northgate for the decider, and with it all to play for, the need for a huge home crowd support was duly supplied. Initially, the Jets kept making strides only to be pegged back by Wolves throughout the game. None more so than in the second quarter, where Worcester brought the game into just four points despite being down by 11 just 90 seconds earlier.
That momentum with the Wolves carried on into the third quarter where they were to gain the lead heading into the last stanza, but John Lavery’s side were not to let the home crowd down and a magnificent 29-17 quarter from the Jets, taking the majority of the points late on after Richie Gordon fouled out for Worcester, meant that the seemingly biggest shock of the quarter-finals had been achieved, finishing 87-77 (167-157 agg.)
However the real hurdle lay in wait from Newcastle Eagles in the semi-finals. No doubt a different Eagles side that Cheshire faced just two weeks previous, but in this competition it doesn’t matter who a team plays, they just need to win.
And in the first semi-final leg, they did just that. For the handful of Jets fans that made the long trip up to Newcastle, it was well and truly worth the journey, and the excitement generated in front of the Sky cameras will probably never be fully conveyed.
An incredible first quarter performance saw Jets go 35-19, as threes rained down inside Sport Central. Everything it seemed wanted to drop for the Jets, from every position on court. Adam Brown had already made eight steals in the first ten minutes together with Bill Cole’s fantastic shooting, and it showed as Cheshire knew they had to put the pressure on Eagles from the start to have a chance of making the second leg easier.
#TeamMohawk kept on rolling through into the second quarter, Kai Williams this time making the Eagles’ evening one to forget it seemed. Defensively, it was on course to be the worst performance of the year at this rate for Fab Flournoy’s team. The Jets were an incredible 60-37 at the break. The reaction to the score on social media and the British basketball scene was unbelievable.
The BBL Cup, Trophy and Championship winners were not going to rest on their laurels, and in the third quarter came alive as Eagles put on a 27-12 push and cut the deficit down further, but Cheshire held their nerve and stretched the lead back out once more. 85-70 going into the final quarter, but Cheshire were again faced with a barrage from Andrew Bridge and Charles Smith, the latter who sank a crucial three pointer to bring the scores to within a single shot and five minutes left.
However, something inside the Jets kept them focused and Adam Brown doubled his efforts bring the house down on the section of Cheshire fans as his contributions helped claim a first leg victory of 99-89 to take back to the Northgate.
The build-up between the Friday result and Sunday night home leg was immense, and the excitement felt around the Northgate was overwhelming. The players had urged everyone to wear black (#OperationBlack) as well as the, now obligatory, mohawks, fake or real.
Newcastle though were straight out of the starting blocks and opened up a huge lead on the night and even took a slight three point lead on aggregate, but Jets pulled them back in and swung the advantage overall back to them by just two points at the end of the first quarter.
Two big bursts from Cheshire in the second quarter meant the ten point aggregate was restored and even extended upon by half time to 14, as they went 40-36 into the locker rooms.
Even the third quarter was kept quite tight, maintaining the four points on the night until late on when a 8-0 run from Eagles gave them the evening lead, but still were in need of another six points to tie the aggregate score.
Then, within the space of a few minutes, the league MVP – Joe Chapman – did what any MVP should do. Three consecutive three pointers silenced the Jets fans and an almighty roar bellowed from travelling Eagles supporters, and with six minutes left on the clock, Newcastle had the aggregate score by four. Bill Cole brought it in level with four minutes left, but whilst Eagles carried on dropping shots, Cheshire were unable to find a solution, and could only get as close as two points before Newcastle held on and won the game from the charity strip.
A very disheartening end to a fantastic run, but to be beaten by the eventual winners, and pushing them right down to the final minute says more about the Cheshire efforts, from all involved, than most.
Another season of up’s and down’s but there is no question that Cheshire Jets would prefer to have it any other way. The mohawk may not be back next season, but the Jets will be and battling it out again for the silverware on offer.