Manchester Giants won their opening game of the new BBL season on Sunday evening, beating north west rivals Cheshire Phoenix 98-92 behind closed doors in the BBL Cup group stage.

The victory came after a big blow in the build-up, when they received the news that international clearance with FIBA had not come through in time for their American imports, including big new signings Sam Cassell Jr and Lyle Hexom.

Their absence on the court was made up for by their presence on the bench, as the quartet cheered on Warrington-native guard Jordan Whelan as he led the scoring with 24 points, and Bulgarian forward Alex Ouandie who added 23 to lead the charge.

Danny Byrne’s team led from tip-to-buzzer, and were fast out of the blocks to go 7-2 in front as 21 year-old guard Zack Powell hit five early points, which soon became a double-digit lead at 15-5 when Ouandie scored eight in a row including a pair of triples and a strong drive to finish on his weaker right hand.

Maintaining their margin, the visitors’ best spell came when they won the third quarter 27-17, including an 8-0 finish in which Whelan scored the last six of the period.

That gave Giants a 76-59 edge, which was a cushion that proved crucial as Cheshire came back at them late in the game. Phoenix were back to within two possessions inside the final minute, as it fell to captain Jack Hudson to ice the game with two crucial free-throws.

“It’s an unbelievable result,” said Head Coach Danny Byrne, “the guys knew their backs were against the wall, and credit to them for digging deep. When we add our Americans for the return leg, it’ll be pretty exciting.

“They had a never say die attitude, and showed what it means to play for Manchester Giants. Jack led from the word go today, he was tough and all action, and he kept the guys together. Jack has a great future in the BBL.”

The Liverpudlian guard turned in a captain’s performance with 19 points on 7-11 shooting from the field, to go with seven assists; while Ouandie added seven rebounds and five assists to his performance.

Hudson added, “We found out late yesterday that half our team couldn’t play today, but that didn’t change our mindset. We play to win, whether we have five guys, ten guys, twelve guys.”

Giants are next in action on Thursday 19th November when they host Phoenix in the return at the National Basketball Performance Centre, Belle Vue.