Preston’s College Titans Under-18s team punched their ticket to the last 16 of Basketball England’s National Cup with a pulsating 91-72 home win over Cheshire Phoenix.
Khalil Baro led the way with an impressive haul of 25 points and was backed up by Ramaar Morgan-Johnson’s 21 and Sheik Sheriff’s 15, which included some spectacular slam dunks.
In what was billed as a top-of-the-league battle it was a tough opening salvo as Cheshire came out of the blocks early and punished the hosts’ nervous start. It was not until some excellent perimeter shooting by Baro and the strong inside presence of Morgan-Johnson that Preston steadied their nerves.
Baro’s three triples from beyond the arc ensured the team was nip-and-tuck with Cheshire, as they led by two at the end of the first quarter 16-14.
Sheriff, who was held scoreless in the first quarter, took matters into his own hands and came out all guns blazing in the second.
He punished the smaller, less- athletic Cheshire players with some spectacular moves including several gravity-defying slam dunks, as the hosts kept the lead at arm’s length.
By the time the half-time buzzer had sounded, Preston took a 42-35 lead into the locker room.
Under-18s head coach Chris Hodkin thrives on his team playing up-tempo basketball and his troops took heed to that philosophy. Cheshire could not handle the streaking duo of Baro and Sheriff and, when they were not on point, up stepped Morgan-Johnson to punish the interior defence by scoring at ease.
A third-quarter offensive onslaught saw Preston up 69-59, with Baro continuing from where he left off in the first quarter with another pair of threes, as the bench players too got in on the act.
First, Harry Steele and then Omar Obbassy each hit a three-point shot of their own to further compound Cheshire’s woes.
A 15-7 tear to start the final quarter all but rubber-stamped Preston’s passage into the last 16.
Hodkin said: “It was a good win considering how slow we started.
“Our offense was clicking and we ran some great half-court sets. The bench players contributed to the win too.”
Baro, who is averaging 20 points per contest this season, was equally delighted with the win.
He said: “We played well as a team as we were moving the ball, everyone was getting extra passes and that’s how we got the big lead and ultimately the win.”
The team now progress to play Leeds Allerton High Force in early December, after they beat the defending champions and of the favourites Manchester Magic.
The cup win came hot on the heels of an 101-52 drubbing over winless Bury Bluedevils in the league.