Leicester Riders 89 (25,45,66) (Bernardini 22, Anderson 14, Hassan 14)
Esh Group Newcastle Eagles 95 (34,63,77) (Thomson 16, Jones 15, Fletcher 14)
Esh Group Eagles Newcastle have strengthened their position atop the BBL Championship table after a dominant first half performance saw them to an 89-95 defeat of Leicester Riders, the second time they have beaten their third-placed rivals this month.
Eagles recorded their sixth straight win, and secured the head-to-head against Riders, as five of their players hit double-figures, led by Andy Thomson’s 16 points, with Rahmon Fletcher adding 14 and eight assists.
The early exchanges saw the BBL’s two highest-scoring teams going toe-to-toe, sharing 59 points in ten minutes. And it was the Eagles that had the better of it, as an early 12-2 burst that was started and finished by ‘and-one’ plays from Thomson and Scott Martin, made the score 7-12. The Eagles led 25-34 after the first quarter, with Martin on 10 points.
And that continued into the second stanza, as a 10-1 run, capped by Stuart Thomson’s three-pointer, made the score 33-50. And soon after it reached its peak at 35-53 on another Andy Thomson old-fashioned three-point play, Leicester finding themselves in first half foul trouble, and trailing 45-63 at the half time break.
But Coach Paternostro got his defence going in the third period, and the Eagles had to withstand a second half fight back. Leicester held the Eagles to just 14 third quarter points, and scored eight points in a row, including four for Conner Washington, to get back to 64-73 and give themselves a fighting chance heading into the decisive fourth quarter.
And Leicester came close to avoiding only a second home defeat late in the game. A 9-3 opening saw Tyler Bernardini hit a triple – he led all scorers on the night with 22 – and Darius Defoe fouled out for the Eagles on a technical foul with more than seven minutes to play. Riders got back to within one point with a 12-4 spell soon after, Bernardini hitting another two treys, for a score of 87-88 heading into the final two minutes.
But Eagles composed themselves, with Fab Flournoy and then Andre Jones scoring, before they forced the Riders into a series of misses down the stretch, prevailing to go six points clear of Worcester Wolves in the BBL Championship.