WORCESTER Wolves consolidated their hold on fourth place in the British Basketball League after a thrilling victory over Cheshire Jets at the University of Worcester.
Unlike the sides’ last meeting a month ago when Wolves romped to a 39-point win, this was a far tighter contest which was in the balance until a 14-5 run in the last four minutes decided matters.
It was 19-year-old English forward Kalil Irving who came to the fore in the last quarter of play, tallying 10 of his game-high 22 points.
Wolves coach Paul James said: “We made the game tough for ourselves. We had opportunities to break the game open but didn’t take them.
“Turnovers are killing us right now and it’s something that we are going to have to work hard to eradicate.
“The energy of Kalil shone through tonight. He had a fantastic performance and gave us a little something of what we have been missing of late.”
Stan Ocitti began the scoring with a triple and Irving chipped in with six points to help Wolves to a 20-14 first quarter advantage.
A dunk from Irving extended the Worcester lead but consecutive scores from distance and one close to the basket from Cheshire player-coach Chez Marks brought the teams level at 22-22.
Midway through the second period, Wolves’ big Lithuanian Arturas Masiulis opened his account with a dunk to level at 29-29.
With 19 seconds to go in the half, the match was still tied at 42-42 until Marks sank two free-throws awarded following a foul by Wolves forward Carlos Fernandez.
A moment later Fernandez again erred by throwing a wayward pass that was intercepted and converted into another three points by Marks as the visitors took a 47-42 lead into the break.
However, Cheshire’s excitement was quickly tempered as Wolves took the first five points of the second-half. With a couple of minutes left in the third quarter, an Alex Owumi triple took matters to 63-59, but an instant triple from Marks closed the gap.
A long-range basket from Cheshire veteran Shawn Myers as the quarter expired left his side trailing 67-66.
Masiulis began the final period with six points but he then picked up two quick fouls to end his time on court. Consecutive three-pointers from Owumi had Worcester ahead at 79-72 with seven minutes remaining, but Cheshire once more roared back following scores from Marks and Gabe Haskins.
With just under four minutes left, Wolves led 83-82, but it was from there that Irving began a stunning passage of play that blew the game wide open.
Firstly, he caught a full-court assist from Owumi and produced a windmill dunk and a few seconds later he converted a seemingly-impossible reverse lay-up.
Another basket soon followed, before he produced the move of the night when rising high in the air above a trio of Cheshire defenders to emphatically slam home the ball.
Eight points in barely a minute of action had accelerated the hosts’ advantage to 91-82 and that proved decisive.