Leicester Riders put themselves in pole position to claim a home quarter-final in the BBL Cup, by defeating Newcastle Eagles 69-76.
Riders need just one win or one Newcastle loss in their remaining games to be assured of a top two finish in the north group of the BBL Cup and with it a home game in the last eight.
Once again it was an impressive defensive display from the Riders that gave them the platform, holding Newcastle to under 70 points at home. It’s only the fifth time this decade the Eagles have not reached 70 at home, with Riders being the opponents on four of those occasions.
Darien Nelson-Henry and Mike Morsell, neither of whom played in the first meeting between the sides, caught the eye in the early stages as the teams traded scores to be level at 12-all.
Eagles had the first run of the game, veteran Darius Defoe leading them to a 11-3 spell and a 23-15 lead. Nelson-Henry bagged another six points to pull the Riders back into it and Jesse Chuku tied things up at 31-31 midway through the second quarter.
Newcastle, though, shaded the first half and went into the interval with a six-point lead. That was short-lived however, as Namon Wright exploded at the start of the second half, netting eight of Riders’ 13 unanswered points and, in barely three minutes of the third quarter, Leicester led 48-41.
The Eagles chipped away at Riders’ advantage and the gap was down to only a point before Chuku and Joe Scott hit three-pointers either side of the last break to move Leicester 62-57 in front.
It perhaps could have been more, but Riders were unable to take advantage of all their opportunities and the Eagles tied the game at 62-62 with seven minutes to play. Nelson-Henry and Wright edged Riders back in front, but a Kai Williams’ triple meant heading into the final two minutes Leicester’s lead was only 68-67.
Nelson-Henry and Kyron Cartwright were able to combine for two quick scores to give Riders some breathing space and with eight seconds to go they held a nine-point lead, enough to secure them a home draw. But Rahmon Fletcher, wise to the situation, grabbed one last basket to keep Newcastle’s hopes of a top two finish alive.
Nelson-Henry (20) and Wright (19) led the way in scoring, whilst Cartwright wasn’t too far away from a triple-double with 12 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds.
Eagles: Morsell 22, Defoe 11, Mitchell 11, Fletcher 10, Aded-Hussein 7, Williams 5, Schlitzer 3, Lasker, Yabantu, Kande.
Riders: Nelson-Henry 20, Wright 19, Cartwright 12, Anderson 9, Chuku 6, Thomson 5, Scott 3, Lascelles 2, Ward-Hibbert, Dieterich.
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