Both of the monthly awards for March are heading to North West rivals, as Ben Thomas of Cheshire Phoenix and Tyrik Armstrong of Manchester Giants are recognised following a busy few weeks across various BBL competitions.
Thomas is awarded the Kevin Cadle Molten BBL Coach of the Month for March after Cheshire lifted the BBL Trophy in front of a record crowd at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, live on Sky Sports. Underdogs on the day against London Lions, it was an historic victory for the club as their fifth BBL Trophy success but first since they won it four times in a row up to 2004, with Coach Thomas in the stands as a supporter on that day.
He got the team’s game plan right on the day as his charges were aggressive at both ends of the floor, holding Lions – the most prolific long-range shooters in the league – to just 6-24 (25%) at the three-point line while Phoenix attacked the rim and the glass, attempting a massive 34 free-throws and scoring 17 second chance points. It was epitomised by his late addition to the squad, Larry Austin Jr., who won the MVP award with 23 points and 10 rebounds, including five offensive boards and key put-backs.
To open the month, they had set up that Trophy Final by spectacularly coming from behind to overcome Glen Luss Glasgow Rocks in the second leg of the semi-final. Trailing by 12 from the first leg – a margin from which no team had returned in 27 previous such situations in this competition – they won the second leg by an emphatic 115-72 in front of a raucous home crowd at Ellesmere Port Sports Village, a record margin for the second leg of any game in the BBL.
There was also a hefty 113-66 home league win over Surrey Scorchers to end the month, with all four of Cheshire’s American stars going through 20 points as their visitors were blown away following a 12-0 opening.
Cheshire are currently fifth in the BBL Championship, still chasing down the top four with four regular season games to play. They are the second-best offensive rebounding team in the BBL (12 per game), while limiting opponents to the fewest (8), both important factors in their wins in March; and, active defensively, they are also second in the league in blocks (4) and third in steals (8).
Meanwhile, Manchester’s point guard Tyrik Armstrong has won the Molten BBL Player of the Month award for March after the 5’10” Houston native continued his fine form in leading Giants to a 4-2 record for the month.
In his six games, the rookie professional out of Texas Southern University averaged 17 points, seven assists and five rebounds per night, on incredible shooting splits of 58% from the field, 45% from three-point range, and 90% at the free-throw line.
Of particular note, Giants had a six-day spell where they beat perennial powerhouses Newcastle Eagles, Leicester Riders and London Lions in quick succession; and in the former, live on Sky Sports, Armstrong shot 9-10 (90%) from the field on his way to a double-double of 23 points and 11 assists.
In victory against Leicester at the National Basketball Performance Centre – a game remembered for Will Saunders’ late three to win it, and being the first of two ‘Retro Nights’ with the second live on Sky Sports this Friday – Armstrong scored an unbelievable 17 points in the fourth quarter, and 10 in the last four minutes, as Giants came from six points behind to win it, avenging January’s BBL Cup Final defeat to the league-leaders.
He had two of his three career double-doubles in the month, and has thus far featured in the weekly All-Star 5 on eight occasions which is joint-most with reigning Molten BBL Player of the Season Geno Crandall, having gained weekly honours in two consecutive weeks in March.
As the focal point of Giants’ offence, there is no player in the league who has scored more baskets in the BBL Championship so far (144 made field goals on the season). Overall, he is seventh in the BBL in both points (17 per game) and assists (6), third in free-throw percentage (82.9%), and one of just two guards in the top ten for field goal percentage (54.8%).
Giants are well in the fight for second place in the BBL Championship, and led by Armstrong they held that spot for much of March despite the absence of Great Britain captain Dan Clark; currently third with a 13-9 record, they face April clashes against top four rivals London Lions and B. Braun Sheffield Sharks.