BBL Championship
Esh Group Eagles Newcastle 86  (Defoe 24, Smith 14, Cooke/Gause 12)
Leicester Riders 84 (Cousinard 30, Black 14, Hassan 10)

Esh Group Eagles staged a dramatic late rally live on BBL TV to beat the Leicester Riders 86-84 and avenge their BBL Cup Final defeat, joining the Riders in second place in the BBL Championship.

The Eagles are unbeaten in seven home league games, dating back to October, and they were led by a double-double of 24 points and 10 rebounds from Darius Defoe (pictured), with Charles Smith on 14 points and 8 boards. For the Riders, it was their first road defeat in seven, despite Jay Cousinard leading all scorers with 30 points.

It was the first time that the Eagles have beaten the reigning BBL champions in six attempts, and that psychological barrier was evident early on as the visitors scored the first eight points and raced into a 3-14 lead after four minutes. Jay Couisnard made two three-pointers, and the Riders were 5/7 beyond the arc and had 20 points in just over five minutes.

Scott Martin brought the Eagles back with six points as they closed the gap to 20-28, providing the platform for a stunning second stanza spell as they held their visitors scoreless for five minutes while scoring the first 11 points themselves, including Charles Smith’s two triples to take the lead at 31-28. The Riders had dried up completely, shooting only 6/18 in the second period, as Paul Gause’s late three-pointer gave the hosts a 46-42 lead.

The second half was much cagier until Barry Lamble and Harrison Gamble scored consecutively, the latter’s triple tying the scores at 64, and helping the Riders take a 66-68 lead into the decisive fourth quarter, Gamble scoring again. And when the teams shared just eight points in five minutes, missing 16 shots between them, it seemed to suit the Riders.

Indeed, they produced an 8-2 burst, Couisnard scoring all of them, to lead 73-80 heading into the final three minutes. But the Eagles inflicted a run upon the Riders akin to that which was inflicted upon them late in the BBL Cup Final just two weeks ago. They scored seven in a row, 4 for Gause and 3 for Defoe, to tie the game at 80, before Defoe’s basket with five seconds to play won the game. Gamble had a three-pointer to win it for the Riders, but missed on the buzzer.