A sensational second half comeback saw Leicester Riders into the BBL Cup semi-finals for the first time in four years as they defeated the defending champions London Lions 72-63.
Riders were 14-points adrift at half-time, but in the blink of an eye were right back into the game in the third quarter and Joe Scott’s stunning shooting saw them home in the fourth.
Despite being boosted by the return from injury of Namon Wright and Josh Ward-Hibbert, Leicester looked really rusty in the first half having not played for 19 days. They had eight turnovers in the first quarter alone and almost no shots were dropping as they fell 18-4 behind.
Captain Andy Thomson netted five points, but it was only in the dying seconds of the first quarter that Riders reached double figures as a team. Three-pointer after three-pointer rattled in and then out again as Leicester’s offence just couldn’t find its rhythm and the scoreboard read 35-17 three-minutes from the break.
With just 25 points on the board and 14-points behind, it was hard to see how Riders could get back into the game at the interval, but whatever he said, Rob Paternostro’s team talk had the desired effect.
It was a total transformation, Wright netted back-to-back threes, Kyron Cartwright secured and-one and Jamell Anderson threw down a thunderous dunk and then bagged a triple as Riders levelled the game at 41-all barely three minutes into the second half.
The Morningside Arena was rocking as Leicester took their first lead of the game when Darien Nelson-Henry capped an 18-2 start to the third quarter in only four minutes. And then both teams stopped scoring, stuck on 45-43 for three minutes, they combined for only five points in five minutes making it 48-45 heading into the fourth, with Leicester having kept London to only six points in ten minutes.
With five minutes to play, there were still just two points between them before Scott had arguably his best 90 seconds in a Riders’ shirt so far as he connected for three three-pointers in a row, each more difficult than the last, and Leicester edged 66-59 in front.
From there they were never in trouble in a remarkable turnaround which set up a two-legged semi-final with Worcester Wolves who overcame Newcastle in their quarter-final.
Cartwright led the way with an impressive display of 15 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds, whilst Thomson’s contribution of 13 points in 19 minutes was vital. Wright and Scott bagged six three pointers between them as they had twelve points each.
Riders: Cartwright 15, Thomson 13, Wright 12, Scott 12, Ward-Hibbert 7, Nelson-Henry 6, Anderson 5, Chuku 2, Lascelles, Roberts, Dieterich, Jimenez.
Lions: Peel 23, Robinson 11, Tew 6, Dang Akodo 6, Whelan 6, Ikhinmwin 5, Romero 3, Allen-Jordan 3, Jackson, Lockhart.
The Riders begin their BBL Championship campaign on Friday Evening when they take on the Plymouth Raiders at the Morningside Arena. CLICK HERE to purchase your tickets!