The Riders took another step towards the final four of the British Basketball League Trophy with a midweek 104-86 victory over the 0-2 Manchester Giants.
The win takes Leicester’s record to 2-1, putting pressure on the Bristol Flyers and Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles, neither of whom can afford to lose if they want to claim a top two spot in Group B.
The Riders struggled at times to score efficiently, but coach Rob Paternostro will be happy with his team’s dominance on the boards – outrebounding the visitors 50-37 – and the unselfish basketball on display, the Riders dishing 30 assists on the night.
The home side also did an excellent job of forcing missed shots down low, Leicester’s big men battling hard against the sizeable Manchester front court.
Athletic power forward Miryne Thomas took ‘Player of the Game’ honours, putting up a stat line of 16 points, seven rebounds and eight assists to flirt with a triple-double.
The Riders’ second unit also played well, spearheaded by 19 from TJ Lall who consistently hit big shots in important moments to keep the home side ahead.
Not to be outdone, Teddy ‘Buckets’ Allen drained 21 in what appeared to be a ‘quiet’ display by his standards, popping up each quarter with a play to get the Morningside Arena bouncing.
Manchester’s defensive issues continued, but they flashed on offense, William Lee and Nick Lewis the top scorers with 16 and 17 points respectively.
As predicted, the game started quickly, both teams wasting no time putting points on the board. Lee, one of a glut of former Riders suiting up for the Giants, opened the scoring with the first of his ten first half points before an instant answer from captain Kimbal Mackenzie, who had eight of his own.
Thomas soon drained the first three of the night after nice play from Jaren Holmes – five first half assists – before Allen got in on the act, casually pulling up and stringing a classy deep trey to give the Riders an early ten-point lead.
Thomas then splashed again from deep in transition and, with Mackenzie constantly pushing the pace of the offense, Leicester looked in control.
A couple of threes from big-man Lee (the main scoring option with Jamell Anderson injured) kept Manchester within striking distance as the first quarter clock wound down, but an authoritative jam by Samuel Idowu and Lall joining the three-point party maintained Leicester’s control.
The second quarter started with super-sub Lall hitting a tough, fadeaway three and rising for a huge block to get the Morningside on its feet.
Not to be outdone, Holmes drove to the basket for a nice ‘+1’ play which led to a string of Riders free throws, facilitated by the aggressive attacking play of high-flyer Blake Bowman.
The Giants showed fight through Evan Walshe’s 13 first half points and Legend Robertin was his usual abrasive self-down low but continued quality play from Lall and the introduction of debutant Duke Shelton – six points – built the home side’s lead.
A beautiful block on Robertin from Shelton set the tone for the last five minutes of the half, matched by another ‘+1’ play from ‘Buckets’ Allen who reminded the fans why he won December’s ‘Player of the Month’.
Thomas drained his third deep ball of the game to stretch the Riders’ lead to 15 and good team basketball carried Paternostro’s squad towards half time.
A great first half for Leicester saw them take a 59-44 lead into the locker room, punctuated by a breakaway dunk from Holmes with a few seconds remaining.
The second 20 began and the Riders were now showing dominance on the offensive glass, Mo Walker using his size well before Thomas put back a missed Allen layup with feeling.
However, the following few minutes were scrappy for the home side, missed shots and turnovers allowing Manchester to come back into the game through Lewis, who was slowly heating up.
A nervous energy rippled through the Riders’ fans, but that was soon put to bed after a silky move by Allen.
The CEBL MVP had his man in knots with isolation moves before blowing past him and laying home a tough shot. When Thomas thundered in a two-handed dunk, home supporters were back on their feet.
The final minutes of the quarter saw both teams slow down on the offensive side of the court, the Riders uncharacteristically missing several three-point attempts, allowing the Giants to creep back within ten going into the final stanza.
As he had done to start the second quarter, Lall drained from deep to get the Riders back on track.
Bowman hit another nice move into a layup to bring the lead back to 11, but the Giants were showing something, sticking around with buckets from Jalen Harris and Robertin.
The teams hit a period of trading baskets, going toe-to-toe, the Riders lead at just four points. Leicester soon wrestled back the momentum though, Thomas setting up Idowu for a one-handed flush before ‘Buckets’ Allen hit a layup that only he can for back-to-back scores.
Paternostro’s squad rode that momentum to another double-digit lead with three minutes left, a pair of corner triples in succession from Lall virtually clinching the Riders’ victory.
A clutch trey from the Riders’ captain took them into triple-digits and iced the game, with the Giants unable to make a late-game comeback.
The Riders return to action on Friday, January 19, taking on the Newcastle Eagles on the road.
The game will decide the team’s seeding in Group B, and whether they will advance to the Trophy semi-finals at Utilita Arena Birmingham.