TEAM Solent Kestrels opened their NBL Division One title defence with a convincing 98-64 win over newly-promoted Essex Rebels, writes Jack O'Keeffe.

It was the second time in three weeks that the sides had met, with TSK also taking a big margin of victory in the L Lynch Trophy group stages.

It was a back and forth start in the latest meeting at the Solent Sports Complex as Travis Charles opened the scoring for Kestrels whilst Rebels standout guard Sam Newman stroked a three for the visitors. The hosts would make the first meaningful run of the ball game, to the tune of 14-4, capped of by an Ian Smith triple to force Essex into their first timeout.

With Kestrels now up 18-9 they would set about increasing the lead before the quarter was done, five straight Brendan Okoronkwo points followed by some Elliot Dadds sharp shooting left them 27-16 to the good.

Kestrels pushed the deficit to 15 early on in the second, behind more three-point shooting from captain Dadds and when Charles converted shortly after, TSK would be firmly in the driving seat, 40-22.

Rebels would string together an 8-0 run in reply however to trim the arrears to 10 and spark a coach Guymon timeout. Post-timeout, the home side restored their 18-point lead and would push the gap to 21 through Smith and Orlan Jackman, but back-to-back scores from the Rebels left the score at 57-40 at the break.

The second half started exactly the same as the opening few minutes of the game with the sides trading a number of scores, Kestrels’ Okoronkwo found his rhythm whilst Essex earned a number of successful trips to the foul line. Smith connected on a triple to extend the lead to 22 and prompt coach Ross Norfolk into his first timeout of the half for Essex, however TSK pushed the lead to 25 before the quarter was up.

An 11-3 run to open the final period would kill off any hopes of a Rebels fight back, as the Kestrels guard line-up found a number of easy scores. Charles would continue to add to his tally as he went an efficient 11-16 from the field, before Luke Gosney came off the bench to add further misery to the scoreline for the visitors, Kestrels running out 98-64 winners.

Charles led the way for TSK as he poured in 24 points and nine rebounds whilst Okoronkwo added 20 points and seven boards and Smith 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Essex only featured two players in double figures with Andre Lavinier posting 13 points and Newman adding 10.

Reflecting on the season-opener, TSK head coach Guymon said: "It was a great feeling to restart league play after our run of L Lynch Trophy games. We knew we had to have another big defensive performance to limit Rebels key players and I felt for the majority of the game we were able to do that.

"It was also good to see another balanced scoring effort with high assists and low turnover, which is a testament to the players buying in to how we want to play."

TSK will now wait for further guidance from Basketball England as they are awaiting consultation from the government on new guidelines and how that will affect the sport.

All being well, Kestrels will make the trip to the East Midlands on Saturday afternoon to face Loughborough Riders.