Leicester Riders2524182491Loss

Until the emergence of the heavily-backed London Lions, the most fierce rivalry in the British Basketball League was always the clash of heavyweight powerhouses Leicester Riders and Newcastle Eagles.

This season both sides have had spells when they have looked like returning to former glory but conversely both sides have also struggled to turn their undoubted talent into a consistent winning formula.

The Easter Sunday showdown at The Mattioli Arena, Leicester was the latest crucial fixture with the prize this time around probably being a fourth place finish in this season’s League standings and home court advantage in the end of season playoffs.

Going into the game the Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles were on the back of only one win in their last five Championship games whereas their hosts had won the last two they had played. Riders coming away from a tricky away fixture at Sheffield with a superb road win.

Riders came into this game on the back of a great win against Sheffield Sharks. (Photos: Nathan Green)

The same Sheffield side that Newcastle have lost to twice recently and who are the third horse in the race for that vital fourth place. The series between the Riders and Eagles was, before this game, weighted in Leicester’s favour at 2 wins to 1 and a +25-point differential in Rider’s favour.

So, perhaps, the game was more important to Newcastle although in the early going it appeared that it was the home side that had the sway and swagger to consolidate the 4thplace that they are currently in possession of.

Ex-Eagle Duke Shelton netting the first four points of the game with Tahj Green getting the Eagles first points on the board. The game was tied at 9 points all when Leicester made the first decisive run. Seven unanswered points to help them to a double-digit lead at 23 to 12.

Jordan Johnson hitting a triple late on to bring Newcastle back into a single figure deficit as the first period ended 25 to 17 in favour of the Riders. The second quarter belonged to Leicester. Initially the gap was closed by the Eagles but a Riders run of 10 to 0 saw them establish a 49 points to 32 lead.

Devin Whitfield’s only score of the game, a triple, meaning Leicester led by 14 points as the teams headed to the locker rooms with Head Coach Marc Steutel needing to find the words to inspire his charges to turn the game around.

Whatever he did say in the confines of those four walls certainly worked as his side were simply sensational in the third period. The three-guard combination of Rickey McGill, Jordan Johnson and Larry Austin Jr. combining beautifully to turn the game on its head in an explosive ten-minute period.

Eagles Men took a step closer to 4th place with a win against Leicester Riders. (Photos: Nathan Green)

Add in the powerful offensive presence of Green and suddenly from 55 points to 41 down the Eagles were back in business. Runs of nine unanswered and then twelve more after Leicester had found four in between propelled the Eagles from 14 points down to a point in front at 69 – 68 with ten minutes to play.

That final ten minutes was a triumph for the Eagles and Green in particular. Leicester had responded to Newcastle’s third quarter onslaught by bouncing back well to take a 79 to 70 lead when Green with three triples inspired his side to a 15-point unanswered run and suddenly they were back up by six.

Leicester tried to rally but lay-ups from Austin Jr and Green again kept Riders at bay and then when McGill nailed two late free throws it was all over and Newcastle took a superb road win to keep them well in the running for that fourth place finish.