Strathmore University-sponsored Blades moved closer to qualifying for Kenya Basketball Federation men’s Premier League play-offs after collecting two crucial points at the weekend.
Blades, coached by Tonny Ochieng, laboured to upset former champions Co-op Bank 45-44 in a return leg match characterised by low scores on Sunday.
Blades have now enhanced their chances of making the six-team play-offs, climbing to third from seventh in the table of standings with 27 points.
The university students, who missed last year’s play-offs by a whisker, have so far won 12 matches and lost three.
Co-op Bank, who nevertheless remain second in the league with 28 points despite losing their fourth match of the season, had beaten Blades in the first leg. But on Sunday, Co-op Bank totally collapsed as Blades turned the heat on them from the word go. Blades raced to a 16-6 first quarter lead, thanks to their points-hungry forwards Fidel Okoth who scored seven points, Shilton Ochieng and Deril Omondi.
Co-op Bank’s efforts to get back into the game flopped miserably as Blades, who had also beaten Lions 67-55 before the competition took a two-week break, led 29-17 at the break. And Blades continued to make Co-op Bank look ordinary with a 45-33 run in the last quarter.
The bankers regrouped to threaten the students, with shooting guard Titus Musembi firing in two three-pointers in a row that prompted Blades coach Ochieng to call his last time-out to salvage the situation.
The bankers gained confidence, cutting Blades’ lead to half a basket at 44-45 with nine seconds to go. It soon became anybody’s game. However, the clock did not favour Co-op Bank, with referees Justus Akhwesa and Eric Omondi blowing the final whistle, prompting wild celebrations’ from Blades after the dramatic 45-44 victory.
Blades coach Ochieng said: “We played well, opening a 10- point gap against our opponents but turnovers due to pressure nearly cost us victory.’’
Co-op Bank coach Carey Oketch said: “We played poorly and it was a bad day for us. Blades deserved to win.’’
Leaders Ulinzi Warriors, on 31 points, Umoja, champions KPA, Equity Bank and USIU-A Tigers are among the top contenders to qualify for the play-offs.
Equity Bank made bright their chances of finishing sixth when they clobbered Trailblazers 80-48. The motivating result saw Equity Bank increase their points tally to 24 from seven wins and 10 loses.
Trailblazers, who have won only four matches and lost 13, will require a miracle to win all their remaining five matches to sail into the play-offs. Trailblazers a lie a distant ninth with 21 points.
In the women’s Premier League, champions Equity Bank remained on course to successfully defend their title when they punished Storms 65-35. Equity Bank, who led 33-21 at the breather, maintained their second spot with 22 points after having won 10 matches and lost two.
KPA are still in the drivers seat with 24 from 12 consecutive victories. Coach Ronnie Owino’s Strathmore University closed in on the play-offs following their 65-51 victory over Eagle Wings. Strathmore are fourth on the 10-team table standings with 20 points while Eagle Wings are a distant seventh on 17 points same with Storms.
Co-op Bank and newcomers Zetech University are also battling for the women’s Premier League play-off positions as they currently occupy third and fourth positions on the table standings respectively.
Men: Blades 45 Co-op Bank 44, Equity Bank 80 Trailblazers 48, Blazers 64 Neosasa 40, Terrorists 47 Strathmore University 57. Women: Equity Bank 65 Storms 35, Masaku Sparks 44 Strathmore University 36.