WORCESTER Wolves were unable to give their fans at a packed University of Worcester Arena an early Christmas present as they fell to a 78-88 defeat against Cheshire Phoenix.
A back-and-forth encounter was tied at 71-71 with three minutes remaining before a stronger finish from the visitors saw them take the spoils.
Director of Basketball Ty Shaw admitted late lapses cost his side: “We allowed Cheshire to get a couple of offensive rebounds at the end which was too many. We stopped moving the ball and looked disjointed. We needed to get more stops.”
It was a pedestrian start to proceedings for Wolves. Cheshire had powered to a 15-3 opening by the time that Jordan Whelan and latest signing Lester Prosper were introduced to the court to spark an upturn.
Whelan took aim for a double of three-pointers and located Prosper free by the hoop for his debut points in the form of a one-handed slam.
Bursting with energy, Prosper danced to another couple of scores and then stepped back to confidently convert from distance and level matters at 27-27 early in the second quarter.
Whelan continued his irrepressible run by pulsing in a further eight points to propel Worcester to their biggest lead of the night at 37-29 five minutes before half-time.
Phoenix seven-footer CJ Gettys made the most of his size to pull his side back into the contest. After bullying his way to a put-back basket he got in the way of an errant pass to immediately connect again and take a 46-42 advantage into the break.
Deshawn Freeman took the spotlight as the second-half began, throwing down a double of crowd-pleasing dunks to once more level the evening at 48-48.
Matters were still tied at 61-61 entering the final quarter. It would take three minutes before Wolves turned over their side of the scoreboard through Miki Servera. The dearth of scoring for the hosts carried on aside from an urgent eleven points from the previously-scoreless Robert Crawford.
Meanwhile Cheshire captain Momcilo Latinovic inspired his teammates with repeated successful drives to the rim.
Even if his shots went astray the visitors invariably possessed someone poised to grab the ball for second-chance points.
An ill-tempered end to the evening saw point-guard Darell Combs dismissed to the locker-rooms after collecting a double of technical fouls as Worcester’s challenge petered out.
Whelan led the way for Wolves with 17 points, followed by 13 points for Prosper and 12 apiece for Freeman and Servera.
Latinovic dominated Cheshire’s numbers with 35 points.
“Lester did a pretty good job on his debut. He hit some shots and got us some rebounds,” said Shaw.
“But Latinovic was great for them. He’s a good player but he shouldn’t be pouring in 35 points. If you find someone who’s hot you need to find a way to stop him for the rest of the game.”
Wolves travel to Glasgow Rocks on Friday (December 21) for a BBL Trophy first round tie.
After that they round out their 2018 fixtures the following Friday (December 28) when league newcomers London City Royals visit the University of Worcester Arena.
“Glasgow will be the next chance for us to improve,” added Shaw.
“We have to box out better. Gettys got 11 offensive rebounds by himself tonight. We can’t have that. We need to see how our rotations allowed that to happen, how we didn’t put a body on him.
“We have to clean up some things and turn close losses into wins.”