Sunday evening sees the 12-11 Riders take the tough trip north to face the 14-9 Caledonia Gladiators and wrap up Round 18 of the British Basketball League Championship.
The game is sure to be a battle of attrition after both teams played in competitive matches on Friday night as part of a weekend doubleheader.
Leicester Riders at Caledonia Gladiators
Playsport East Kilbride, Glasgow
Sunday, February 11, 6:00pm
Late Game Magic
Rob Paternostro’s squad will travel to Glasgow high in confidence after Friday’s 102-81 defeat of the Plymouth City Patriots gives them a chance to extend their League Championship winning run to four games.
The Riders didn’t have it all their own way against the Pats, but a devastating 33-point fourth quarter saw them through to the impressive double-digit win.
Friday’s 102 points was the fifth time Leicester reached triple-digits in the past nine games, and history dictates that when they breach that total, they win.
Teddy ‘Buckets’ Allen took Player of the Game honours in the victory, yet again making 20 points look easy with a cool 25 on 58% shooting from the field.
The prolific scorer had an off night from three-point range – dropping just one of his six attempts – but displayed elite adaptability, pulling from an extensive bag of tricks on multiple occasions to finish at the rim.
Big Samuel Idowu also turned heads with a 20 point – 12 rebound double-double from the bench in what is becoming a familiar sight of dominance.
Idowu is proving to be a nightmare for defences, often imposing his will inside before sliding quietly out to the arc to splash from deep, currently hitting around 30% of his three-pointers.
The introduction of Allen and the emergence of Idowu is also allowing captain Kimbal Mackenzie to play a more well-rounded point guard role without the burden of being the roster’s primary scoring option.
The Riders’ leader can still shoot the ball – often in clutch situations – but 11 assists against the Patriots demonstrate his increased role as a distributor as the trust between the squad improves with each game.
Solid shooting, good distribution and trust are three things the Riders will need if they are to best the Gladiators on home court. On recent form, they have all three in abundance.
A Tough Return to Championship Action
The Gladiators have been enjoying a fantastic season so far, sitting third in the League Championship standings and making it to the semi-finals of the League Trophy competition.
Gareth Murray’s men play safe, solid basketball predicated on stingy defence and hustle on the boards.
It is a tactic that has worked well throughout the season, however the return to championship play has been a tough one.
A low-scoring home victory over the Bristol Flyers started February off in winning fashion, however this was followed by a double-digit defeat in Newcastle on Friday night.
The biggest concern for the Gladiators was allowing the Eagles to dominate the fourth quarter after beginning the final stanza just three points adrift.
Former Rider Patrick Whelan scored 21 points to continue the season as Caledonia’s primary scorer. Leicester supporters will be familiar with Whelan’s pinpoint accuracy from three-point range, currently hitting at an impressive 43% clip.
The Scottish side also boast a trio of impressive forwards – Lukas Palyza, Princeton Onwas and Fahro Alihodzic posing a formidable front court arsenal, boosted by true centre Clifton Moore Jnr coming off the bench.
Caledonia are a team without any glaring weaknesses for the Riders to exploit, however their aggressive defence does give up more fouls than most teams.
The Riders are one of the best free throw shooting teams in the League, so if the likes of Allen and Mackenzie can repeatedly get to the line, they could keep the scoreboard ticking over, making like difficult for the Glaswegians.
There will be entertaining battles all over the court on Sunday, however the most crucial may come between a pair of bench big men: Samuel Idowu and Clifton Moore Jnr.
Standing at 6’10”, Moore Jnr is an imposing figure inside the paint. The young centre – in his rookie season after five years playing college ball – uses his length well to finish at a high clip while also blocking shots at the other end.
The former La Salle Explorer is averaging 9.8 points per game from the bench on over 57% from the field and leads the Gladiators in blocks per game with 1.5.
Moore presents a tough problem to solve for any big man in the League, however in current form, the Riders’ own second unit big man will be up to the task.
Standing at 6’8”, Idowu gives up a bit of size to his younger opponent but makes up for it with bulk, experience and shooting range.
The four-year veteran is a bruiser on the inside, using his strength to force missed shots near the rim before motoring down the other end of the court to forge a scoring opportunity.
The Brooklyn-native averages 8.2 points per game currently, but with four double-doubles since the turn of the year, those numbers are consistently on the rise.
Idowu also brings range to the Riders’ offense, averaging nearly three deep balls a night, so expect to see him dragging Moore out to the perimeter to open up inside space for a cutting guard.
Sunday’s game could be the perfect end to Round 18 between two well-matched teams.
The starting lineups could well cancel each other out, so bench points will be crucial. How effectively Idowu and Moore Jnr use their minutes could decide which set of supporters go home happy.