port Central stages a key BBL Championship match-up on Friday evening as Newcastle Eagles host Jelson Homes DMU Leicester Riders.
The Eagles suffered their second Championship loss of the season last Friday as they went down 85-76 against UCP Marjon Plymouth Raiders, but they are still top of the table with an 18-2 record. The Riders are in third place, five wins behind the Eagles, but with three games in hand.
Friday’s game will be the first Championship meeting between the sides this season, with the title race still wide open, but the sides did meet in the BBL Cup semi-final. The first leg at John Sandford Sports Centre saw something of a rarity in basketball – a tie – as the sides shared 180 points, but it was Eagles who sealed a place in the final with a 71-63 victory in their home leg.
Eagles’ player-coach Fab Flournoy rates the Riders highly: “We haven’t played Leicester since November but they gave us two of the toughest games we have played all season then. Whilst Cameron Rundles, Ayron Hardy and Drew Sullivan are seen as their main players, it was Bradd Wierzbicki [pictured] and Brett Royster who really hurt us back in November. Add in the excellent play they are getting from Barry Lamble and Jamell Anderson off the bench and you have a dangerous team. And that’s before I mention Yorick [Williams] who can hurt you very quickly and score in bunches.”
Flournoy couldn’t hide his disappointment after the loss against the Raiders re-ignited the Championship race: “We weren’t really at the races against Plymouth. We started off without much energy and allowed them to get out in transition early. We did make a run in the second half but did not quite have enough composure to get over the hump and then foul trouble hurt us at the end.
“Paul Williams was really tough on the offensive boards and James Jones made some big shots for them.”
Riders’ coach Rob Paternostro knows the size of the task facing his side in the north east: “Newcastle has had an incredible start to the season, what has been impressive is they have shown the ability to win games in many different ways. Defoe’s play in the paint has been strong, Joe Chapman’s shooting this year has been remarkable, Gause’s speed and quickness puts pressure on the D, Andy Thompson’s versatility has been important and Charles Smith is a guy that can score in a variety of ways.
“You add Fab and [Andrew] Bridge who both do what it takes to win and you have a very good basketball team. The guy that sometimes gets overlooked is Darius Defoe, he has had a very good year. He continues to develop his game and has produced some excellent performances so far this season.
“We will have to play well at Newcastle in order to get something out of it, it is important that we take care of the ball and to not allow them any easy points.”