Leicester Riders are out of the BBL Cup after a hard fought and intense semi-final, edged out by arch-rivals Newcastle Eagles, 76-71, at the Morningside Arena.
Nothing separated the sides through three quarters of the match, but a huge three by Eagles American forward Justin Gordon gave the visitors a 73-70 lead with just under two minutes left in the game, and Riders could not find a way back, missing four shots in the final two minutes.
The Eagles now progress to the Final against London Lions who are through without playing against a Covid hit Manchester Giants.
The Eagles started the game on fire, setting up their big men, Evan Maxwell and Gordon, inside for easy baskets, capped by a Cortez Edwards three to put them 7 nil on top. But William Lee responded with a dunk off an assist by Geno Crandall and Riders went on an 8 to nil run of their own. At this stage, the defences were dominating between two teams who are very familiar with each other, and it took Crandall to weave his magic to keep Riders in touch in spite of a few loose passes. At the first quarter break there was nothing between the teams, tied on fourteen points apiece.
The second period followed the pattern of the first, with Eagles dominating inside and a Corey Johnson three was more than cancelled out by successive threes by Maxwell and Drew Lasker.
Riders Head Coach Rob Paternostro was forced to an early timeout trailing 28-19 with still 6 minutes in the half. That did the trick, as Darien Nelson Henry immediately rattled off 6 points in a row in a Riders 11-2 run that got the scores tied on 30 with three minutes left. Crandall then weaved his way inside for a basket, followed by another Johnson three, but a jump shot by Edwards gave the Eagles the narrowest leads at halftime at 37-36, with the game still finely balanced.
The offences started to get some traction in the third period with both teams pushing the ball up the court quicker and finding the gaps. William Lee and Nelson-Henry combined well inside, but 6 feet 10 inch Maxwell was causing all sorts of problems for Riders inside, as he benefited from a number of Edward’s passes. Another Johnson three got Riders within 2 at 49-47 down but Edwards hit back with a three of his own. Another Lee dunk got Riders back in front 52-51 forcing the Eagles to a timeout. Crandall then hit six points on the spin for the Riders but a breakaway basket from youngster Eddie Matthews helped Eagles stay just in front 62-60 at the third quarter break.
It stayed nip and tuck in the final quarter but successive baskets by Maxwell followed by a driving lay-up by Edwards got Eagles 68-64 clear with five minutes left.
Nelson Henry and Lee then then combined well inside for baskets, and a Crandall lay-up got the scores to 70 all. Gordon hit the three with less than two minutes to go, and then Crandall missed a free throw and Riders were chasing the game. They had their chances in the final minute but could not convert.
In a game dominated by defences Lee gave another solid performance with a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds, and Crandall top scored with 17 points and added 5 assists. But the Riders struggled from behind the three point line making just 4 of 16, and their turnovers at 16 were double that of the Eagles and proved the decisive factor. Maxwell top scored in the game with 19 points.
Crandall 17, Jackson 12, Nelson-Henry 12, Lee 12, Johnson 11, Fraser 4, Anderson 3
Maxwell 19, Edwards 18, Gordon 15, Pflueger 5, Fletcher 4, Sayers 4, Defoe 4, Lasker, Adenekan 2, Matthews 2