SPECTATORS at the University of Worcester Arena were treated to a humdinger of an evening as Worcester Wolves hauled themselves back from a late deficit to triumph 89-85 over Cheshire Phoenix following over-time.
The latest victory was Wolves’ eighth in a row and saw them stay clear at the top of the British Basketball League.
But the win did not come easily against one of the league’s form sides, who were coming into the game on the back of knocking over title-contending Leicester Riders the previous weekend.
For large periods, neither side was able to take control.
With five minutes of regulation time remaining, Cheshire held a five-point cushion but Wolves’ BBL player of the month for December, Zaire Taylor, was a man on fire in the dying seconds, topping off eight late points with a pulsating drive through startled Phoenix defenders to jam the ball home and thrillingly take the match into an extra period.
At the opening tip-off, Worcester’s Andreas Schreiber nudged the ball to his fellow forward Kalil Irving, who passed it straight back for his team-mate to throw down.
Phoenix playmaker Reggie Middleton gave an early indication of his mettle by taking the next five points.
A couple of Cheshire’s other stalwarts, Dominique Coleman and Victor Moses, were also quick to showcase their abilities, combining for 15 of their side’s points as they pushed to a 25-21 first-quarter advantage.
The only player to reach double figures for Wolves in the whole of the first-half was centre Will Creekmore, who kept the scoreboard steadily ticking over with close-to-the-basket moves, punctuated by the occasional score from distance.
The teams were tied at 41-41 with six seconds to go when Cheshire’s Devan Bailey clumsily fouled Alex Owumi and swiftly compounded his error by arguing the referee’s call.
The Worcester captain stepped forward to calmly sink all four of the resultant foul shots and give his charges an interval lead.
Phoenix clamped down defensively in the third period, limiting their hosts to a meagre 11 points while they tallied 18 of their own to edge back in front at 59-56.
Coleman was again the player with the hot hands as he floated in his fourth and fifth three-pointers of the contest.
The defensive pressure carried over into the initial two minutes of the fourth quarter with Wolves held scoreless and forced to watch Middleton cap off a 7-0 run for the visitors.
Now trailing 56-66, it was the turn of Wolves’ dynamic guard duo of Taylor and Owumi to step to the fore, both managing to more than double their scoring output over the next eight minutes.
Owumi had misfired on all four of his previous three-point shot attempts, but finally found his range on consecutive attempts to help drag his team back to an even game at 76-76 with three minutes to play.
Taylor was next to score, before Moses barrelled over Creekmore for two points and a bonus free throw.
With Middleton making one of two free throws awarded after a foul from Owumi and Worcester now trailing 80-78 with just 17 seconds remaining, coach Paul James called a time-out.
From the restart, Taylor took sole command of the ball, surprising Phoenix defenders and bringing the large home crowd to their feet in delight.
A dispirited Cheshire could not hold back the Wolves’ momentum in over-time, surrendering the opening six points to Taylor and Owumi, and allowing them to nab a further three for good measure.
James said: “What a fantastic game. Either team could have won it. They got a big lead, but we made some key plays at the end.
"Cheshire are tough, one of the hottest teams at the moment, so I’m really delighted that we found a way to get the win. It’s fabulous to be at the top of the league.”
Creekmore led the Wolves’ scorers with 26 points.
Owumi and Taylor tallied 23 and 20 points respectively with Owumi also grabbing an impressive 12 rebounds. Coleman top-scored for Cheshire with 27 points.
It will be another three weeks before Wolves return to the University of Worcester Arena to host Glasgow Rocks on Friday, February 14.
Next up will be a BBL Trophy encounter at London Lions on Sunday, February 2.