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BBL Championship Preview: Riders vs Gladiators

Friday sees the Riders play the second of a two-game home stand as they tip off against the Caledonia Gladiators. Leicester will hope to make it two-for-two at home after a hard-fought 89-79 victory over the Newcastle Eagles last Sunday.

Riders’ season so far

After sharing the spoils in last weekend’s series with Newcastle, the Riders head into Friday night with a 17-8 record, six points behind the second-placed Bristol Flyers.

Leicester had to wait until the fourth quarter to create some breathing room between them and the Eagles. Marc Loving, who led the scoring with 20 points, dropped 11 in the final stretch to inspire the Riders to their ninth home win.

Read our full report here.

Loving was ably supported by captain Darien Nelson-Henry who contributed 16 points in an efficient shooting display.

Nelson-Henry is currently scoring 8.5 PPG and shooting at a 56.41% clip, good for third on the team. The 6’11” center is also the Riders’ most prolific rebounder, snagging 6.4 per contest.

If he has another dominant day on the boards this Friday, the 29-year-old could be the first Rider to pass 200 rebounds this season.

Gladiators’ season so far

Much like the Riders, Caledonia notched another mark in the win column after a well-fought victory against the Manchester Giants. The 92-83 triumph pushed the Gladiators to a 14-13 record and boosted their league position to fourth, leapfrogging their Manchester opponents.

The most significant difference between the two teams came on the boards – the Scottish outfit outrebounding Manchester 51 to 34. Centers Patrick Tapé and Fahro Alihodzic were excellent on the offensive glass, hauling in four OREBs each to help the Gladiators to 13 second-chance points.

Caledonia’s top scorer is guard David Sloan.

Sloan is averaging a cool 16.97 PPG while dishing nearly five assists per game. The 6’0” Tennessee State Buccaneer possesses wicked ball-handling skills and has a habit of scoring points in bunches, racking up 36 against the Riders earlier in the season.

A win over Leicester would give the Gladiators a firmer hold over the fourth spot in the league.

Key Matchup

Expect guards David Sloan, Patrick Whelan and Kimbal Mackenzie to light up the scoreboard, but of more importance may be the number of chances they get.

As he did against Manchester, Patrick Tapé will want to pose as a problem for the Riders on both end of the court. The athletic big man was Caledonia’s ‘Player of the Game’ on Sunday, after a fine showing where he earned a double-double, scoring 13 points and reeling in 12 rebounds.

The Ivory Coast international is averaging 10.5 PPG in four games against the Riders this season, but rebounds haven’t been as plentiful. Leicester have restricted Tapé to just four RPG, some way off his season average of 6.55.

Continuing the keep the 6’10” center off the glass will be key for the home team if they want to lead the season series against Caledonia, which currently stands at 2-2.

On the front line to achieve the task will be the previously mentioned Nelson-Henry and Sunday’s hero, Marc Loving.

The free-scoring forward has been dependable on defence all season, pulling down over five defensive rebounds per game. Couple that with the Ohio native’s talent for scoring, and you have a two-way forward who can match up with any front-court player in the BBL.

The fan favourite is putting up 16 PPG versus Caledonia this season, hitting over 55% of his shots in three of the four games.

Loving has not dropped below double-digit points in the league since January 29.

Another big night from the American may be crucial as the Riders look to further the gap between third and fourth in the BBL.

Where to watch

The game tips off at 7:45 pm at the Morningside Arena. Get your tickets here!

Alternatively, it will be shown live on Sky Sports Arena and the Sky Sports youtube channel, starting at 7:30 pm.