Preston’s College Titans Under-18s squad were unceremoniously dumped out of basketball’s National Cup in the last 16 by a slick and well-organised Leeds Allerton High Force 97-56 at Preston’s College Sport Centre.
Khalil Baro led the Titans effort with 23 points and had support from Marcus Manuoan’s 15 and Ramaar Morgan-Johnson’s seven points respectively.
In what was always going to be a tough baptism of fire playing a team from a division above, the hosts led through Morgan-Johnson’s three-point play.
But they were soon pegged back by some stellar ball movement and interior play by Leeds as they built up a commanding 18-7 first quarter lead.
Coming into the game, Preston led the North West D-League in scoring with just shy of 85 points per contest whilst keeping their opponents to under 58 points a game.
Having beaten the firm favourites for the cup and previously undefeated Manchester Magic in the round of 32, Leeds could not have cared less for those stats as they set about destroying Preston’s own undefeated record.
The hosts were outdone by some exceptionally shooting from beyond the arc as Leeds, led by Josh Gill’s 11 points in the second quarter, took Preston to task.
As half-time approached, Preston could only muster another 11 points to add to the seven they had scored in the entire first quarter. Going into the locker room 43-18 down, it appeared as though the game was beyond Titans’ reach.
Only some inspired play by Baro – he scored ten in the third quarter – stopped the rot, albeit briefly. An assured 25-11 run by Leeds snuffed out any ideas Preston had of mounting a comeback.
Led by their professional British Basketball League coach Matt Newby, Leeds piled on the pressure.
Playing without their leading scorer and rebounder Sheik Sheriff, who sustained an ankle injury in practice only 48 hours earlier, the hosts were outrebounded and out-muscled in the paint by a proficient Force side championed by England international Micah Savery-Richards.
Amassing a colossal 38 points in the third quarter, it seemed that the visitors could do no wrong and scored at will. Restricting Preston to a season-low 56 points the visitors ran amok and walked off with a merited victory.
“It was a tough loss,” said Baro. “We didn’t want it as much as Leeds did.”
And coach Chris Hodkin said: “We played scared and in awe of them.
“My guys couldn’t finish off their breakfast let alone a lay-up.”
Having tasted defeat for the first time this season, Titans play their penultimate game before the Christmas break in the North West D-League against Manchester Giants on Saturday.
The team currently sits comfortable at the top of the table with an unbeaten 5-0 record as they look to end the year on a high.
In other action Preston’s College Senior team had the weather quench their ambitions of reclaiming top spot in the Men’s Development League North West, as their game against Kendal was called off.
Their next game comes in early January at Chester.