The Riders improved to 6-4 in the British Basketball League Championship after a convincing 111-88 victory over the Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles on Saturday.
A 36-point third quarter from Rob Paternostro’s team rattled the Eagles in the second half, and the loss drops Marc Steutel’s squad to 3-7 on the season.
On a night where several Riders caught the eye, energetic shooting guard Jaren Holmes had potentially his best game yet, dropping 25 points on 84% shooting, adding four assists and five boards for good measure.
Holmes lit up the pine all game, his impact displayed with a plus 22 score differential when he was on court.
A high-quality first half from Xavier Pinson gave the Riders a boost early, continued by pure dominance from the second unit, who scored 51 points from the bench.
Eagles’ point guard Jordan Johnson bagged his usual 25 points, and enigmatic forward Tajh Green made a 13-point, 14-rebound double-double, but a spectacular second-half of offense from the Riders put the game beyond doubt.
After a pre-game build up heavy with anticipation, both teams came out looking determined to gain a useful lead early. The half that followed, didn’t disappoint.
Three-pointers dominated the first few minutes of play, the dynamic duo of Pinson and Holmes hitting back-to-back triples to answer five early points from the Eagles.
Newcastle crept out to an eight-point lead thanks to tenacious defence and 11 points from Rickey McGill, but a couple of beautiful buckets from Pinson and tough play from the Riders’ bench kept the lead narrow.
One move in the paint from the Riders’ starting point guard saw him scythe through multiple players before readjusting mid-shot to draw the foul and hit the ‘and one’ play.
Skilled big man Samuel Idowu made his presence known from the bench, slamming home a dunk, dismissing a McGill layup with authority and stroking from deep all within a couple of minutes.
With the Idowu three, Riders went into the second quarter trailing by just a single bucket.
The second quarter began, and the pace of the game took a step up.
Five quick points from talented point guard Jordan Johnson were answered by a pair of threes from Riders’ veterans, Mo Walker and Connor Washington.
Leicester’s much discussed depth was showing its value once again, the Riders’ bench outscoring the Eagles 25-6 in the first half.
Johnson was cooking for Newcastle – hitting 14 first-half points – but he was matched by the tandem of Pinson and Kimbal Mackenzie, who dropped 14 and eight points respectively.
A pair of corner threes from the Riders’ captain sparked the home side as the half rushed to a close, and when Pinson hit his free throws following more aggressive play in the paint, Leicester took their first lead of the game.
The Riders were now forcing their visitors into poorly taken shots, and despite Green working his way to his double-double, Leicester went into the locker rooms in the lead, 53-50.
The first 20 minutes was a virtuoso display of deep ball shooting, both teams draining over 50% of their threes – the Riders at an eye-watering 66%.
If fans thought the pace would slow in the second half, they were badly mistaken.
Two deep threes from Green and wing player Devin Whitfield were quickly answered by the Riders – buckets from Braelen Bridges, Caleb Asberry and four fast break points by Holmes giving Paternostro’s squad a steadily growing lead.
Leicester were now running hot, playing wonderful transition basketball combining effective defence with ruthlessness on offense.
Even Eagles’ talisman Johnson was struggling to hit shots, and when scores from Pinson and Miryne Thomas dropped, the visitors were staring at a 15-point deficit.
Leicester were also riding the heat of Holmes’ hand, the two-guard boasting 17 points after hitting every one of his shots from the floor.
A lengthy break following a facial injury to Thomas slowed Riders’ momentum, but Holmes quelled any thoughts of a quick Newcastle comeback with another triple.
The Eagles were still dangerous though, big-bodied forward Malcolm Delpeche wowing both sets of supporters with a thunderous dunk off an alley-oop.
With Newcastle’s shooters hitting a cold snap and the Riders’ second unit continuing to dominate the floor, Leicester entered the final stanza holding a comfortable 20-point lead.
Leicester’s exceptional play continued into the fourth, a cool-headed Washington draining a step back three to build the lead further.
The Eagles could not handle the Riders’ defensive intensity, and with Holmes looking impossible to defend, the result looked certain with six minutes still to go.
The contest meandered to a close in jubilant fashion for the Riders’ faithful as their team saw out the well-earned win.
Late ejections for Green and Darius Defoe for persistent fouling summed things up for the visitors, who will be hoping for better as they look to move up the BBL championship table.
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