Championship Preview: Riders vs Eagles

The Riders will begin November’s slate of games this Saturday, welcoming the Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles to the Morningside Arena for the first time this season.

Despite the young season, the two squads have already built a competitive rivalry, taking one game apiece in October after 80 minutes of back-and-forth play.

Fixture Information

Leicester Riders vs Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles

Morningside Arena, Leicester

Saturday, November 4, 7:30pm

Get tickets here!

Happy to be Home

The Riders will be glad to play in front of the home supporters this weekend after coming agonisingly close to claiming a great victory in Scotland.

Rob Paternostro’s young team have showed they can win on the road – beating this weekend’s opponents and dominating the 7-3 Bristol Flyers – but Clifton Moore Jr’s bucket with two seconds left gave the victory to the Caledonia Gladiators last Sunday.

Leicester fell to an 84-83 defeat, but their 5-4 record doesn’t do justice to how good this team is and how far they can go.

The Riders have one of the deepest squads in the British Basketball League which is reflected in the quality of offense they produce.

Leicester sit second in the league at 88.4 points per game, but no Riders feature among the Top 10 points scorers.

Superb sharing of the ball and a punchy bench means that Riders’ top scorer – Jaren Holmes at 12.9 PPG – is joined by three teammates scoring over 11.3 PPG. Four players averaging over 11.3 PPG is the most of any team in the BBL.

Leicester’s October 6 victory over Newcastle in the Vertu Motors Arena saw them nearly double their opponents’ bench points total.

For the Riders to take a 2-1 series lead over the Eagles, second unit standouts like veterans Kimbal Mackenzie and Connor Washington must keep up their current sparkling form.

Victory in Europe

Much like the 92-85 loss on October 6, the Eagles will face the Riders after a midweek contest against tough European competition.

Wednesday night saw Marc Steutel’s team hit the pine against multiple Czech champions, Basket Brno, beating them 87-81 after an impressive opening quarter.

The consistent danger that is Jordan Johnson finished as the game’s MVP, hitting 25 points and dishing eight assists in a typically action-packed display.

The Eagles built a lead through fast break points and tenacity on the offensive glass, something the Riders will need to stand up to this weekend.

Newcastle excel at offensive rebounding, leading to an offense that thrives off extra possessions, giving scorers like Johnson and the mercurial Rickey McGill scope to get hot.

Led by Johnson, they also shoot well from the free throw line, hitting 76% of their foul shots which is second in the BBL.

So far this season, the Riders have done a great job of matching the Eagles in these areas – they will need more of the same come Saturday, in what is sure to be an exciting spectacle.

Key Matchup

Following the events of the highly charged contest between these two a couple weeks back, it’s hard to look past the battle of power forwards, Miryne Thomas and Tajh Green.

Two big men with scoring ability and a competitive edge, the clash between Thomas and Green is sure to get the Riders’ faithful nudging towards the edge of their seats.

The Eagles’ 6’8” forward has been a star of the British Basketball League since he entered the league with the Manchester Giants last season.

While his minutes and scoring numbers are slightly down on last season, the South Carolina native still poses a significant threat, notably dropping 23 points on the undefeated London Lions, including three deep balls. 

Green has always been aggressive in the paint, but his range and accuracy has improved in Newcastle. The physical forward is hitting at a higher percentage from deep this season, so the Riders’ defence must take notice when Green is circling beyond the arc.

Rookie forward Thomas can also string it from downtown, but it’s the speed and agility he shows underneath the basket that truly gets pulses racing.

Standing at 6’8”, the Cleveland-born baller utilises his length and movement skills to manipulate defences into giving him space, often finishing off a leading pass with a spectacular dunk.

Many of his 12.2 PPG come after a show of elite athleticism – a sight Riders fans are getting used to seeing each week.

The past two weeks have seen the youngster solidify his play with excellent rebounding, pushing him into the BBL Top 10 and earning him a spot on the league’s Team-of-the-Week twice.

The Riders won’t meet the Eagles again until 2024. Paternostro’s men will want a victory to savour over the winter period. That competitive fight won’t present itself in any players more than it will in the frontcourt between Thomas and Green.