The Manchester Met Mystics came away victorious as they upset the Sheffield Hatters in a close fought game in round 1 of the WBBL Trophy at the National Basketball Performance centre this weekend.
Manchester headed into the game coming off a disappointing 59-52 loss to the Newcastle Eagles last weekend. With a renewed focus and point to prove, the Mystics still faced a huge challenge in the Hatters, who sit at 9-1 in the WBBL Championship this season. Their sole loss was by two points, against the unbeaten and Eurocup participants, London Lions.
Sheffield, who feature four former Mystics from last season, (Helen Naylor, Hannah Shaw, Nicolette Fong Lyew Quee and Ebony Horton), made the trip to Manchester on the back of a 49-point win against the Cardiff Met Archers last weekend. The last time these two teams faced each other was the opening weekend in October when the Hatters won 79-46.
The Mystics were without veteran guard Rheanne Bailey but had made a late addition to their roster with the signing of Erica Meyer earlier in the week. Meyer joins the team after a season with Solent Kestrels in WNBL D1. Meyer led the team in blocks (1.7), averaged 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds. She made an immediate impact for the Mystics, providing some much-needed height for the team and proved a formidable presence in the post to back up Dom Allen.
The Hatters came out firing with a pair of three pointers from Georgia Gayle (25 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) and Helen Naylor (13 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists), giving the Hatters an early 6 nothing lead. Two quick layups from Dom Allen, on her way to a season high 20 points shooting 75%, and a patented Georgia Jones jumper tied the game, as the Mystics took a slim 3-point lead heading into the second quarter.
With Bailey absent, Coach Jeff Jones went into his bench rotation with Meyer and Elisha Moore getting court time early on. Moore, who came into today’s game averaging 8.1 minutes per game, brought energy and hustle off the bench, clearly taking a page out of, Mystics 2020/21 DPOY, Vanessa Akra’s playbook bothering the Hatters on defence. Moore wasn’t fazed by playing nearly 23 minutes as she made her presence felt as soon as she stepped on court with a layup on her first offensive possession. Finishing with a WBBL career high 6 points and adding 5 rebounds, an assist and a steal, expect to see much more of Moore the rest of this season!
Ann Sheaia was another spark off the bench, drilling a 3-pointer and stretching the Mystics lead to 10 in the second quarter. Georgia Gayle led a late rally for the Hatters as she answered from behind the arc, cutting the lead to seven. She also provided the highlight play of the game as she hit a three-quarter court shot on the buzzer for half time that brought the Hatters to within 6.
The second half saw Dom Allen continue her domination of the paint as she added 3 blocks to her 7 rebounds and 20 points. In an impressive display, all 3 of Allen’s trips to the line were part of an And-1 opportunity as she finished at the basket and took contact.
The teams headed into the fourth with the Mystics up by 4. Lauren Thomas-Johnson opened the scoring for the Mystics continuing her top form this season. Thomas- Johnson, who finished with 14 points and 3 rebounds, has been having a career year on offence for the Mystics. With 15.7 points per game on 39.2% from the field, she hasn’t missed a beat after a couple of seasons away.
Sheffield tied the game at 65. With just under 5 minutes to go Ebony Horton (9 points, 6 rebounds) went 2 of 2 from the line. The Hatters then led by 4 until a Jones buzzer beater, off one leg, cut the lead and Erika Williams, receiving a pass from Jones, nailed from behind the arc to give the Mystics a 72-71 lead with 57 seconds left. Williams’ shot was a replica of the one she hit earlier in the season against Cardiff in the last minute to seal the win in that game, also off an assist from Jones! Williams, in her first WBBL season, leads the team in scoring with 16.2 and finished the game with 7 points, 9 rebounds and a season high 3 steals. Two more free throws from Horton gave the Hatters the lead back temporarily until Jones hit two of her own to swing it 74-73 in favour of the home team.
As Sheffield held the last possession and with the clock winding down, Gayle drove to the basket for a layup, but the Mystics defence held firm and Jones grabbed the rebound as the final buzzer sounded on an incredible game!
Defence was an integral part of the win for Manchester. Sheffield average 88.3 points per game, second only to London, and Manchester held them to 73. Akra, who is well known for her defence, set the tone with an impressive +/- of 10 when she was on the floor, finishing with 6 points and 7 rebounds. The work she puts in off the ball cannot be underestimated.
Speaking after the game Jones (18 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds) spoke about the team’s mindset coming into the game: “After last week we were obviously very disappointed, we know we underperformed so coming into this week we…really stepped up….our minds were right our bodies were right coming into this one and we were just ready and we showed it for 40 minutes.”
Jones attributed the key to the team’s defensive success to their communication: “When we communicate we’re smart enough to know and make up for our mistakes and I think that really showed today ,and we mixed it up zone and man a bit more today.” She also gave praise to the bench: “That’s exactly what we need from our bench players, and they did step up today and bring the energy”
A tough month of road games awaits the Mystics with Sevenoaks Suns first up. Asked about how the team approach this, Jones emphasised the standard of play we saw today: “We’ve seen our standard now and we can’t dip, we’ve just got to get better… we know Sevenoaks are going be a tough game and especially on the road as well, its going to be extremely hard but its just another test…and we’ve held ourselves accountable now that’s a level we need to not go below. It’s a turning point for us now and we have to go with it and take confidence from today no matter who we’re playing, where we’re playing, we’re capable of playing with the best and beating the best, we need to just move forward now.”
Watch the full interview with our joint Bondi Bowls Mystics MVPs Georgia Jones and Dom Allen and highlights of the game below:
Next up the Mystics travel to the 10-0 Sevenoaks Suns on Jan 22nd and will be back home at the National Basketball Performance Centre on March 5th when they face the Gloucester City Queens.
The draw for the next round of the WBBL Trophy will take place Tuesday 18th January at 6pm.
Upcoming Home Schedule:
March 5th –Gloucester City Queens
March 19th- London Lions
March 26th –Essex Rebels
April 9th – Durham Palatinates
Tickets available here.
National Basketball Performance Centre, Kirkmanshulme Ln, Manchester M12 4TF Map
Bondi Bowls deliver Aussie inspired, plant based, naturally gluten free bowls to your door in Manchester. Find them at Hatch on Oxford Road or order via Uber Eats and Deliveroo Web: www.bondibowls.co.uk / Instagram: @bondibowlsuk