Cheshire Jets survived a thrilling comeback from the Newcastle Eagles to secure a 99-89 victory on the road while Glasgow edged past Leicester 77-76 at Kelvin Hall.
The Jets have been the form team going into the play-offs and stunned Newcastle in front of their home fans with a scintillating first half performance. The top seeds found themselves as many as 28 points down at Sport Central before an improved second half kept their hopes of a clean sweep alive heading into the second leg.
Bill Cole led the way with a game high 28 points while Adam Brown (21p/14as), Matt Schneck (20p/11rb) and Colin O’Reilly (16p/12rb) all added valuable double-doubles. Charles Smith top scored for the home side with 22 points while recently crowned MVP, Joe Chapman was restricted to just 9 points in a high-scoring encounter.
An early 13-0 burst put Cheshire in command at 22-8 with Cole already 3/3 from beyond the arc. A late three from O’Reilly capped a perfect start for the visitors as they raced into a commanding 35-19 advantage after ten minutes.
Cheshire didn’t stop there as they continued to make their presence known from the three point line with Brown netting two more in a 14-4 spell as the lead peaked at 53-28. While the Jets were on fire, Newcastle continued to struggle from downtown failing to make a three point shot as they reached half-time, down 60-37.
Paul Gause stated the Eagles intentions when play resumed, knocking down their first three of the night, sparking a recovery. Gause was in the action again with another three followed by triples from Smith and Andrew Thomson as their deficit was cut to 11 points.
After a woeful first half from the perimeter, Fab Flournoy’s men were a perfect six from six in third quarter and came within eight points of the Jets lead. However, the visitors held their nerve and would take a 15 point lead into the pivotal final quarter at 85-70.
Cole made it a 17 point game with a pair of free throws to open the fourth before the Eagles rallied to set up a tense finale. A run of fourteen unanswered points in a dominant three minute spell reduced the gap to three at 87-84 with six minutes remaining.
Cheshire had missed five successive shots from three point range before Brown finally netted with two minutes to go which was the start of a 7-0 close to the match, which could prove crucial. It was O’Reilly with the final basket of the game in the dying seconds to secure a ten point victory for his side to take into the second leg on Sunday at the Northgate Arena.
In the other semi-final, Glasgow edged out Leicester by a single point in their last ever game at Kelvin Hall. The Rocks were led by a 25 point haul from EJ Harrison while Cameron Rundles had a team high 23 points for the visitors.
A 12-2 burst in the first from the home side helped them establish a 20-18 advantage after ten minutes. The lead peaked at seven in the second as both teams missed a flurry of three point attempts. Gareth Murray finished the half in style with a dunk to give Glasgow the edge at the break, 39-34.
Leicester soon levelled with a 7-2 run only for Mychal Green to restore the Rocks’ advantage with a score from long range. Andrew Wedemire followed suit but by this time, Glasgow had forged an 11 point lead with two minutes to go in the third.
Drew Sullivan connected from downtown for the Riders, either side of two triples from Yorrick Williams in a 9-2 close from the visitors to trail by four at 58-54 heading into the fourth.
The game was set up for an exciting finish as Glasgow maintained their slender advantage in the opening minutes of the fourth before Rundles tied the game at 68 with consecutive triples. The lead exchanged hands in the final stages as Wierzbicki put Leicester up by one only for Murray to respond with four quick points to make it 77-74 in favour of the home side. Wierzbicki had the final say with a basket ten seconds from time to make it a one point game.
The top two seeds, Newcastle and Leicester will both have to overturn first leg deficits if they are to make it into next weekend’s Play-Off final with both second legs taking place on Sunday.