BBL Championship
Leicester Riders 87 (26,42,60) (King 20, Bernardini 15, Hampton 14)
Esh Group Eagles Newcastle 81 (15,31,56) (Fletcher 18, Martin 18, Hart 9)
Leicester Riders asserted themselves as BBL Championship winners by beating second-placed Esh Group Eagles Newcastle 87-81 at Leicester Arena on Wednesday night, led by a huge double-double of 20 points and 16 rebounds for Taylor King.
Riders have now won twelve straight home games, since losing to Eagles in December; while the visitors have lost six straight on the road and are still not mathematically guaranteed second place.
And the hosts led from tip-to-buzzer after racing into a 9-0 lead when they held Eagles scoreless for the first three minutes, while Pierre Hampton established himself on the inside and Bernardini hit a pair of three-pointers. When he scored his third, of three attempts, they were 20-11 up after just six minutes, and led by double-figures at the end of the period when Andy Thomson came from the bench to score the last two baskets.
Riders extended their lead, 41-26, as Hampton continued to be effective inside, reaching 12 points before the half shooting 85%, and Harrison Gamble hit a three-pointer.
But Eagles came on strong in the second half, despite King opening it with a trey and Darius Defoe sitting down on four fouls. They cut the gap to one shot when Fab Flournoy scored five in a row, including just his third triple of the season, in an 11-0 response as Riders suffered five scoreless minutes, missing nine consecutive shots.
And Eagles were within striking distance heading down the stretch when Joe Hart ended the third with a three-pointer, and Rahmon Fletcher opened the fourth in the same manner, 60-59.
But Eric Robertson responded in-kind for Leicester to restore their cushion, and they managed to maintain the edge throughout the fourth period, eventually settling it when a King triple – he shot 4/6 in the game – heading into the final two minutes made the score 82-73.