This Friday sees the Riders host the Plymouth City Patriots in the second round of the British Basketball League Championship.
Rob Paternostro’s players will be looking to bounce back after falling 110-86 to the Cheshire Phoenix in their season opener.
Here is all you need to know ahead of the fixture.
Leicester Riders vs. Plymouth City Patriots
Morningside Arena, Leicester
Friday, September 22, 7:45pm
Riders Look to Rebound
Last Friday’s contest with Cheshire tipped off to the sound of anticipation around the Morningside Arena, as the Riders’ fans saw a new-look squad in competitive action for the first time.
The game proved to be a source of valuable lessons for a unit looking to build cohesion over a long British Basketball League campaign.
While the Riders fell to the Phoenix, Coach Rob’s teams take pride in improvement throughout the long British Basketball League season. The first focus after the season opener: offensive rebounding.
Cheshire only secured five more rebounds than the Riders, but 17 of their 38 total came on the offensive glass. Comparing that to the Riders’ five offensive rebounds paints a clear picture of how the visitors were able to secure the win.
There were positives to be taken from the fixture. Versatile guard Jaren Holmes led the Riders’ scoring charts, dropping 16 points in 32 minutes of play. Many of the rookie’s points came from the free throw line – Holmes the only player to make double digits from the charity stripe.
The Riders shot efficiently (54.9% from the field), helped by the impressive bench duo of Samuel Idowu and Xavier Pinson.
Front-court bruiser Idowu looked excellent from deep, draining three of his four three-point attempts, while Pinson reached his 12 points through a mix of difficult finishes and accurate shooting.
Checking into the tie midway through the third quarter, Pinson led a charge back into the game, which saw the Riders trail by just three with one to play.
A major goal for the Riders this Friday is to gain parity on the boards and play turnover-free basketball.
If they can clean up those areas, the sky is the limit for this quick and athletic unit.
Plymouth’s 2022/2023 in Review
Last season proved to be a tough one for the Patriots who, despite a solid start to the year, finished ninth in the championship standings with a record of 11 wins and 25 losses.
A run of difficult results down the stretch dropped Plymouth level with the Newcastle Eagles and out of the playoffs on head-to-head.
Individually, the Patriots’ brightest spark came in the form of Rashad Hassan, who netted 15.6 points per game and seven rebounds per game. Hassan has departed Plymouth, but donning the colours again this season is lead distributor Elvisi Dusha.
Dusha provided 6.1 assists per outing a season ago, enjoying the best statistical season of his career last year.
Led by Dusha, the Patriots will be hoping 2023/2024 brings with it a playoff place come the end of the season.
Significant Retool for the Patriots
After losing the services of influential players like Hassan and Anontio Williams, the latter leaving midway through last year, the Patriots’ front office has worked hard to rebuild the spine of the team.
Joining Dusha (who has returned as club captain) are no fewer than seven new signings to help Plymouth push for a return to the playoffs.
Perhaps the most notable addition of the South Westerner’s summer comes in the form of recent National Basketball League joint-MVP, Taylor Johnson.
The playmaking guard, who is as dangerous as he is unselfish with the ball in his hands, brings a winning mentality to Plymouth, having led the Hemel Storm to an undefeated season in the NBL Division One last year.
Johnson will be accompanied by second-year pro, TJ Atwood. The 6’6″ wing player, who originates from Texas, comes over from Slovakia, where he spent a season playing for BK Iskra Svit. Atwood got big minutes in Europe, leading the Slovakian Extraliga in time on court.
A Tricky Start
Like the Riders, Plymouth sits a 0-1 after a difficult trip to Bristol last Friday.
The Patriots were downed 82-65 in a low-scoring game plagued with turnovers. Plymouth gave up possession 26 times, giving the Flyers impetus on the fast break and the ability to force trips to the line.
T. Johnson and Atwood joint top scored with 17 apiece, assisted by Dusha, who dished eight assists on the night.
Expect the Patriots to be much tighter in possession this Friday, especially against a Riders team that possesses an abundance of pace.
Played for Both
Plymouth Head Coach Paul James will be no stranger to his surroundings in this matchup. The Leicester native is one of the longest-serving Head Coaches in British Basketball and suited up in Riders Red during his playing career.
The 59-year-old began coaching in 1996, enjoying long spells with the Thames Valley Tigers, Guildford Heat, Worcester Wolves and the English National Team, most notably earning BBL Coach of the Year in 2007 after guiding the Heat to a league and cup double.
James has also previously played for Leicester, starting as a 17-year-old with the Leicester All-Stars in 1982 until the 1987/88 season that saw the point guard score 6.9 points per game.
The veteran’s battles against Rob Paternostro have spanned over a decade, as they get set to write another chapter in their storied history in this one.