Championship Preview: Riders at Phoenix

Sunday evening sees the Riders travel northwest to Cheshire as they take on the Phoenix in Round 12 of the British Basketball League Championship.

It will be the second game of a weekend double-header for Rob Paternostro’s squad after a spirited 89-79 defeat to the London Lions on Friday night.

Fixture Information

Leicester Riders @ Cheshire Phoenix

Ellesmere Port Sports Village, Cheshire Oaks

Sunday, December 3, 6:00pm

Riders Looking to Play Smart

After Friday’s defeat to the league leaders, Paternostro expressed the need for the Riders to play smartly if they are to claim victory in Cheshire. The Phoenix have only lost once at home since October 1 and have won five of their last six in the league.

 Every member of the Riders’ squad should expect significant minutes on the floor and will need to make the most of them.

One player that made the best of his opportunity against the Lions was recent signing Sesan Russell. The British two-guard drove his team forwards in the second half, coming off the bench to score 13 points in just 14 minutes.

The Florida Tech University graduate also flashed his playmaking ability, dishing four assists to add to his scoring.

Young forward Victor Ndoukou may also need to step up against the Phoenix as his minutes have increased since the reshuffling of the Riders’ roster.

The 6’8” man from Wigan has bags of potential, representing Great Britain at under-20’s level last summer. Now could be the time for Ndoukou to start realising that promise.

The Phoenix, who sit second in the BBL standings, are excellent on the offensive side of the ball. The Riders’ defence has improved over the past two games, largely down to high effort plays from the likes of Russell and Ndoukou.

That hustle will be needed once more on Sunday night.

Phoenix in Great Form

Cheshire have been the surprise package of the BBL championship this season. Ben Thomas’ squad play turnover-free basketball which – combined with rampant crashing of the offensive glass – gives his team more chances at buckets than anyone else.

The Phoenix have claimed two victories over the Riders this season. The first a shock road win on the opening weekend of the season, the second a tight 102-96 win at home after a previous Riders’ double-header.

Round 12 is an exact replica of Round 9, with Leicester falling to both London and Cheshire. The Riders will be looking to change history on Sunday with a victory.

Cheshire’s success is largely due to the elite play of dynamic duo Maceo Jack and Aaryn Rai. 

Jack, a tall point guard who play five seasons in college before joining the BBL, has been at the centre of everything good the Phoenix have done this season. The ‘shoot first’ guard stands at 6’5”, making him difficult to guard and tricky to keep off the boards, shown by 18.1 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game this year.

Rai is a big-bodied 6’6” small forward whose speed and ball handling skill belies his size. The former Dartmouth player has added a lethal second scoring option that Cheshire lacked last season, averaging just over 17 points per game.

Keeping the Phoenix’s scoring stars quiet will be priority number one for the Riders’ defence.

Key Matchup

Both teams possess high volume stars such as Jaren Holmes, Kimbal Mackenzie, Jack and Rai, but the most enticing matchup could come between a pair of rangy big men.

Cheshire’s Skylar White has been putting up good numbers this season, dropping over 11 points per contest, pulling down 4.1 rebounds per game and hitting at nearly 85% from the charity stripe.

The 6’8” Brit is an intelligent player, and while he doesn’t possess great speed or athleticism inside the paint, his shooting touch cannot be questioned. White dropped 22 points on the Riders on opening night, so Paternostro will be aware of the danger he poses.

Facing up to the test of White is exciting rookie, Miryne Thomas. 

If White lacks in speed, Thomas has it in abundance. The Cleveland-native has an eye for the spectacular dunk and is adept at freeing space inside for the monster jam. The 6’8” power forward is averaging 12.4 points per night and is hitting over 62% of his shots inside.

Thomas also shows confidence to hit from downtown and shows hustle on the boards, evident in his team-high three double-doubles. #3 is yet to score in double digits against Cheshire this season. If the Riders are to snag the road victory, he may need to set his sights on a fourth double-double.

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