Round four of the British Basketball League Championship sees the Riders heading north for the first time this season to face long-standing rivals the Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles.
Following last week’s comprehensive win against the Flyers in Bristol, the Riders hope to go two-for-two on the road and keep pace with the first-place London Lions.
Leicester Riders @ Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles
Vertu Motors Arena, Newcastle
Friday, October 6, 7:45 pm
Off to a Flyer
Coach Rob Paternostro will want his Riders squad to emulate the hot start they got against Bristol, which resulted in an unassailable 27-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
Led by versatile forward Miryne Thomas, Leicester blitzed the Flyers with powerful play in the paint and supreme accuracy from beyond the arc.
The Riders dropped 46% from deep, which proved to be the difference between the teams.
Energetic point guard Xavier Pinson had his best game so far as a Rider, with a stat line of 17 points, seven rebounds and nine assists for a near triple-double.
Pinson’s comfort running the offence appears to be growing with game time, which has helped the Riders’ offensive output increase each week.
“We got better in practice this week,” said Pinson post-game. “Everything we did translated over to the game.
“I was hurt when I first arrived, but now I’m healthy I’m getting more comfortable and assured in what I’m doing.”
Leicester’s ability to score freely will be of paramount importance against the Eagles, who used the off-season to acquire some dangerous pieces of their own.
Eagles Looking to Soar
After a disappointing 2022/23 season, the Eagles played aggressively in the free agent market, securing the services of BBL stars Larry Austin Jr and Tajh Green.
Early signs suggest that the off-season deals are paying dividends – Newcastle sit level on points with the Riders after a 2-1 start.
But they enter this game off the back of a short turnaround. The Eagles fought wire to wire in the ENBL on Wednesday evening, playing BC Šiauliai in Lithuania.
They fell 94-92 to a buzzer-beating game-winner, and take on the Riders two days later.
A large part of the Eagles’ game centres around physicality near the rim, whether that be in scoring or snagging rebounds.
Newcastle tops the league in made free throws per game with 24.7 and boards per game with 39.
It is imperative that the Riders box out prolific rebounders, Austin Jr and Green, to prevent the upgraded Eagles’ backcourt from having extra chances at buckets.
Last week’s loss to the Cheshire Phoenix proved that if teams match the Eagles on the glass, they are beatable – especially if the Riders keep stroking it from deep.
The on-court battle to watch this Friday may be between the two starting point guards – Newcastle’s Jordan Johnson and the aforementioned Xavier Pinson.
28-year-old Johnson has started the season in excellent form, dropping 19.3 points per game, including 23 total trips to the free throw line.
A seasoned professional who has previously competed in the British Basketball League for the Caledonia Gladiators, Johnson brings speed and precision to the Eagles’ backcourt and an understanding of when to drive to the hole or dish a pass to an open teammate.
Disrupting Johnson with active on-ball defence will be crucial, so look for Pinson to be keen to add to his 1.7 steals per game.
Leicester’s 6’3” point guard should match up to his more experienced opponent well, using his agility and ball skills to great effect.
Pinson has also been deadly from downtown, currently leading the league with a three-point percentage of 54.5.
Expect the battle for points to wage most vehemently in the backcourt.
Both players could wind up as the game winner in this contest.
Played for Both
Both the Riders and the Eagles have the honour of calling two-time League MVP, Andrew ‘Drew’ Sullivan, one of their own.
Sullivan earned a plethora of accolades, both nationally and domestically, over the course of his career, including a bronze medal in the 2006 Commonwealth Games and becoming the first player to make 100 appearances for Great Britain.
The 6’8” power forward first suited up on British shores for the Eagles, helping them to a dominant 2006 season, including a 71-51 BBL Trophy victory over the Riders.
After a few seasons testing himself against European competition, Sullivan signed for the Riders and helped them complete a treble-winning season in 2013.
Over five seasons with the Riders, Sullivan averaged 12.5 points per game and seven rebounds per game.
The Londoner last played for the Riders in 2017, where he retired at the age of 36 as a legend of British Basketball.
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