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The second instalment of our ‘Classics’ series is another recent one, knocking Cheshire Phoenix out of the BBL Cup quarter-final in November 2018. Our performance analyst, Tom Fletcher, gives us some context:

This was a hugely significant win for a number of reasons: first, of course, because it was a derby on the road; second, because Cheshire were the reigning Cup champions at the time; and third, because it was done in front of a large travelling contingent of Giants fans.

For me, while the headline hero of this one was the same as the Worcester game showed last week – Mike McCall Jr. had 19 points and seven assists – the real hero at Cheshire was Torry Butler, while Callum Jones and Vlatko Granic came up with the key late scores.

Coming into the season we hadn’t won a BBL Cup game in any previous campaign since returning to the BBL in 2012 – knocked out in the first round every year. But that had changed when we overcame Surrey Scorchers at the end of October, avenging an unceremonious hammering at home in the league a few weeks prior. Five players scored in double-figures in that game, led by 23 points and 25 rebounds from Willie Clayton in what was his first of many 20+ rebound games.

And as the above suggests, inconsistency had been a hallmark of this early phase of the season. While we came into this game with a respectable 3-4 record, we had lost the previous two games, to eventual Championship and Cup winners London Lions, and another heavy defeat at Plymouth Raiders.

This had been epitomised by two players up to that point: Torry Butler and Vlatko Granic. Torry had struggled to find consistency early on, from leading our scoring on opening night to failing to score in double-figures in four of the next six games, shooting just 36% from the floor, coming up with zero rebounds against Royals and just three points and one board against Lions. We had a saying at the time that if Torry played well then we won, but if he didn’t then we lost. I never quite figured out cause-and-effect here: did we win because he had played well, or did he play well because we were winning?

And Vlatko had been the same initially: averaging just 3 points through his first four games, shooting 6-25 from the field. His form had already picked up considerably heading into this one, and he was coming off a 22 point and 10 rebound double-double against Plymouth.

Torry had been working on trying to improve his consistency, and he started this game at Cheshire well, with a steal, assist and rebound in the first minute as we would go on to lead for the entirety of the first half. But, for Torry individually, it rapidly went wrong from there as he had two fouls in the opening four minutes, a third before half time, and a fourth within a minute of the restart. That first pair knocked his initial rhythm, prompted him to throw his headband on the floor, and looked to have undone any work on improving confidence and consistency. After the fourth foul he had to sit for over ten minutes, during which time our 11 point lead was cut to just three.

But he checked back in with 7:45 left to play, and made a huge contribution as the game got tense down the stretch, scoring his only basket of the game inside the final three minutes, although that wasn’t the half of it. Trailing by one point heading into the final minute – the first time we trailed in the entire game and with momentum against us – Torry came up with a big defensive rebound and followed that on the next defensive possession with a steal. On both occasions those plays enabled Callum Jones scores, and he had six of our last 10 points, and eight of his 16 in the fourth. 

In all, Torry only played 18 minutes, but we won those minutes by nine points, in what ended up as just a five point win overall, showing how we’d played our best basketball when he was on court in that game. On this day he showed great composure and resilience to come up with big plays when he’d suffered early setbacks and it looked like everything was against him.

Vlatko, likewise, had come through early troubles and continued his good form in this game, scoring 15 points on 7-10 shooting and adding 8 rebounds. That included the game-winning ‘and-one’ play with 16 seconds to go – by making an ‘and-one’ with the shot clock switched off, rather than just holding the ball and being fouled for free-throws, it became a four point and two shot game, effectively settling the tie.

So while those are my lasting memories of the game, those many fans who travelled will – like myself – also remember this game for the catchy tune that Cheshire annoyed us with every time they made a three-pointer, or indeed a shot of any kind when making their late comeback. It provoked a glorious moment once it looked like victory was sealed where our fans sung and danced it back to them unprompted – Liam Brown assures me he started that. It’ll be interesting to see if it can be heard on the replay.

By Tom Fletcher