Riders beat Rebels to progress to playoff semis

Leicester Riders pulled off a comeback in the clutch to beat Essex Rebels 81-79 and progress to the semi finals of the Women’s British Basketball League Playoffs. 

The Riders were down by as much as 21 in the game, and 11 going into the final quarter, but pulled off a comeback led by star guard Taylor O’Brien’s 21 points and 17 rebounds. 

She had 6 rebounds in the fourth, but it was Shahd Abboud’s scoring which lit the fire under Leicester with back-to-back buckets, cutting it to three. Her layup with 52 seconds left proved to be the game winner for the hosts. 

Essex had a red hot start, running out to a 20 point lead in the first quarter, but the Riders chipped away until the fourth and snatched the win. Dayzsha Rogan led the game with 23 points and 9 rebounds, going 10-17 from the field. 

Essex take early lead

A 13-3 Rebels lead to start the game was built from tough shot making inside. Rogan scored 6 points in four minutes, banking in two layups off balance as she drove to the rim. 

After the middle had been established, Renee Busch hit a corner three to make it 13, and force a quick Riders timeout. Essex’s hot first quarter meant they started 22-3, led by 8 points from Rogan.

Marissa Hamilton took the lid off the basket for Leicester with a layup in the post, which was followed by a midrange from Mckenzie Johnston, making it 7-22. 

But after chipping into the deficit, it was back to 19 at the end of one after Tia Freeman was sent to the foul line to end the quarter, making it 11-30. 

Riders charge back into it 

Long range efforts continued to fall for the visitors in the second, keeping Leicester at distance. The Rebels were shooting 50% from three midway through the third, while Jessica Eadsforth-Yates knocked down the host’s second triple with four minutes left in the half. 

However, a run to close the second breathed life into Leicester. Katie Januszewska ran the fastbreak at 2:49 on the clock, driving to the rim and finishing through contact to make it 30-43. Erin Powell was next to chip away with two shots from the foul line, and the deficit was 11. 

Essex stemmed the tide with free throws from Busch, but O’Brien brought her tally to 11 with a tough finish at the rim, and Januszewska finished the half with a triple to enter the locker rooms down 39-50. 

Forced to fight back

Essex refound their early form to start the second half, building their lead back to 18. Rogan added two more buckets to her tally to shoulder the scoring load, continuing to battle in the paint. 

They had no answer for O’Brien, however, who kept the Riders’ side of the scoreboard ticking over and bringing her points total to 16. 

Building on their point guard’s play, the Riders fought their way back in it, forcing back-to-back turnovers in the closing seconds of the third. 

Abboud and O’Brien punished the mistakes, and Leicester went on a 9-0 run at the end of the quarter to make it 55-66 with one to play. 

Riders charge into the lead

Hamilton got the fourth underway with back-to-back scores, cutting the deficit to single digits for the first time since the opening stages. 

The Riders dominated the offensive glass from the backcourt through Eadsforth-Yates and Johnston, grabbing three in the first two minutes, and Johnston hit from the foul line after her second offensive board to make it 61-66. 

Essex slowed the Riders’ charge with a three from Claire Paxton, but Abboud responded from distance on two straight plays, making it a one possession game. Johnston then tied it up from the foul line, and Eadsforth-Yates drained a three to snatch the lead for Leicester. 

Winning a battle in the clutch 

Essex steadied themselves to regain the lead, Daniella Turner hitting back-to-back to put them up three.

But the Riders, through Januzsewska’s up and under for two, kept in the game, and Hamilton’s block leading to a shot clock violation gave them a chance to get ahead with under a minute on the clock. 

Abboud, again, drove to the hole and finished for two to capitalise on that chance, before Januzsewska stole the resulting inbound. She then pulled down an offensive rebound from an Eadsforth-Yates miss, but couldn’t put in the putback and the Rebels had a chance to win it. 

The shot fell to Paxton, but her three hit iron. O’Brien pulled down her 17th rebound, and she was sent to the line with 0.2 on the clock. She made one and missed the second, ending the game and winning it for Leicester. 

Heading to the capital

The Riders will head to the capital to face the undefeated London Lions in the semi final. A win would see them progress to the Final at the O2 Arena on May 19.