COHENEL Warriors concluded their most successful season yet in the ABL Final Fours, finishing as runners-up to the recently crowned national champions, New City College, by 3 in a dramatic finale that was decided in the dying seconds of the game.
The Warriors (19-3) came into the semi-finals on the back of a strong post-season run, taking down John Roan (96-88) and St Charles (94-84), in the sweet 16 and elite eight, respectively. However, due to the seeding, COHENEL had to travel to Hackney to take on New City on their home court. A challenge head coach AJ Roberts was well prepared for:
"We know New City well. They're a talented team and I'm sure will be at their best when we play. That being said, we're ready. Our guys have been practising well and are hungry to for the competition. We look forward to the challenge."
- AJ Roberts
As expected, New City packed their home court with a strong home crowd for the game, adding to an already tense affair. Once the game got underway however, some familiar names began to settle any COHENEL nerves with stellar play from Emmanuel Omosanya, Blessing Makanda and Tobi Ojuri all showing they were up to the task. With Jonathan James and Kacper Kaplon also contributing well on the glass and attacking the New City basket, things looked good for COHENEL going into the third quarter. So good, in fact, at one point the Warriors established a double-digit lead on their East London rivals, with New City struggling to find answers to the multi-tiered attack of COHENEL.
However, as well as the Warriors were playing in the third, they didn't take their opportunity to extinguish all hope from New City when the time was ripe. Instead, they missed some key lay ups and turned the ball over several times at the end of the third, which New City capitalised on with appreciation - cutting COHENEL's lead down to just 6 points heading into the final stanza.
With a place in the national finals on the line, the fourth quarter was both tense and full of drama as New City refused to submit while COHENEL continued to maintain a slim advantage with the finish line in sight. Going into the last 2 minutes of the game, another costly turnover by COHENEL gave New City's 'super-sub' Maliq Oke a breakaway layup to put New City up by a single point. The Warriors failed to convert on the ensuing possession, which Oke grabbed off the glass and was fouled with just seconds remaining on the clock. He calmly went to the line and sank them both, giving New City the 3 point advantage, 67-64, that would prove to be the final score.
"We really should have taken care of that game in the third. That was our moment. It's disappointing we won't get to play Haringey in the finals, as I felt we gave New City all they could handle today - but fair play to them and their coaching staff, Andre and Andrea, they never gave up and came up with the big play at the end to get the win. I'm proud of my guys regardless of the outcome of this game - they'd had a great season and represented COHENEL well, both on and off the court"
*The corona virus prevented a final taking place between New City and Haringey (who beat HTS Storm by 26 points), so the season concluded with both New City and Haringey being named co-champions for the 2019/20 ABL season. As a result, the Warriors, who would have otherwise earned a 3rd place finish for their narrow loss to New City, now finish in second place nationally.
Interested in joining COHENEL? Places at the Academy are limited and selective, secured through trials held throughout the year. To find out when the next trials are taking place and to secure your spot at an upcoming trial fill out the application form which can be found here: COHENEL PLAYER TRIAL APPLICATION