Preston’s College Titans Senior men played their first game of the new year and nearly pulled off the shock upset at league leaders University of Chester in basketball’s North West D-League.
However, in what was billed as a league-decider, Preston went down to a nail-biting 59-58 decision in the dying seconds to start 2016 with a loss.
Moses Byekwaso led the team with an impressive haul of 27 points, which included seven three-point shots.
Captain Javel Small had nine and Junior Oscar eight, respectively.
“We played well,” said Byekwaso. “But if we had paid more attention to the smaller details we would have ended up winning.”
Both teams came out tentatively in the first quarter and it was Preston who took the lead through Melkisedek Moreaux.
And once the visitors settled their nerves that lead soon ballooned to 15-7 with Byekwaso bagging a couple of triples.
As the quarter came to a close Chester managed to make some in-roads and ended up only one point adrift at 15-14.
Byekwaso’s hot hand continued in the second quarter as his seven points kept his team right in the thick of things. As the half-time buzzer sounded there was nothing separating the two sides but a slender one-point lead for the hosts.
In the second half, Javel Small single-handedly kept Preston in the game. With one quarter to play and a marginal two-point lead for Chester it was all to play for.
Preston switched off momentarily as Chester went on an 8-0 run, spanning the end of the third and start of the fourth quarter prompting head coach Malcolm Leak into calling a timeout to stem the rot.
Cometh the hour cometh the man. Byekwaso – the nation’s best player in his age category at the recent Luol Deng Camp – hit a succession of threes, and when team-mate Ebinzhe Udoh hit one of his own, what was a nine-point deficit at 50-41 was soon tied at 50-50.
Another triple by Byekwaso, his seventh and last of the game, gave Preston a four-point cushion at 57-53 with little less then 60 seconds remaining.
Chester called for time and drew up a play that worked to perfection as first their 6ft 8in Richard McNutt hit one of two from the foul line, followed by two from captain Niel Gillard.
Leak once again called a timeout and on the ensuing possession Chester deliberately fouled Preston’s power forward Joel Ufele.
Having missed all four of his previous free-throw attempts he clanged another one on the front iron before hitting the second to give Preston a 58-56 lead with six seconds to go.
Although Preston were busy trying to prevent Chester from scoring inside and sending the game into overtime they somehow managed to leave open ex-professional Phil Brandreth wide open who shot the three-ball giving his side a 59-58 lead with one solitary second left.
Preston did manage to get a shot off but it was not on target as Chester celebrated winning what could potentially go a long way into deciding the league title.
“That loss hurts more then any of the other ones,” said Leak. “I can’t swallow it. It’s definitely a very tough one.”
In other action, Preston’s College Under-18s fared a lot better with a lopsided 76-53 win to keep them top of the North West table with a perfect 5-0 slate.
Marcus Manuoan top scoring with 29 points.