Riders see out a close battle

The Riders won a close encounter against the Caledonia Gladiators 84-81. Kimbal Mackenzie took over the fourth quarter with eight points, helping the team see it out in the clutch. 

Mackenzie led the game with 25 points, going 12/12 from the line in the game. Off the bench, Evan Walshe put in an energetic performance with 15 points off the bench, sealing the win with his late free throws.

Leicester shot just 35% from the field in the game but attacked the hoop relentlessly and went 25-27 from the free-throw line. Defensively, the Riders’ perimeter defence held the Gladiators to 22% from three, locking down the outside.

For the visitors, David Sloan and  Aljami Durham put up 22 points each in the contest, pushing the Riders to the final buzzer. They were shorthanded following the ejections of Fahro Alihodzic in the first half and Jeremiah Bailey in the second. Still, they found themselves with a chance to tie it in the closing seconds.

Durham’s three-point attempt found only air, however, and Leicester found a way to put one in the win column. 

The Riders’ looked like they were building a comfortable lead early, leading by six points after 10 minutes. They went on a 6-0 run to end the period led by four points from captain Darien Nelson-Henry, who closed the action with a layup on the horn. 

Walshe took over the scoring in the second, putting up eight of the team’s 12 points after four minutes. His fastbreak jam made it a double-digit lead as the Riders grew their advantage. 

Despite the early form, the Gladiators pegged the Riders back to end the half with a 9-0 run capped off by a fastbreak bucket from Sloan. 

Caledonia then took their first lead of the game following halftime through a dunk from Jeremiah Bailey. Bailey then picked up his fifth personal foul shortly after, seeing him sidelined for the remainder of the game.

The Riders then stemmed the Gladiators’ momentum, and the score continued to swing back and forth. A late run from Leicester, concluded by a Walshe three, saw the Riders edge the lead going into the final period. 

The sides once engaged in a back-and-forth battle in the fourth. The score was tied at 70 with five minutes remaining following a Patrick Whelan three. 

Mackenzie attacked the rim down the stretch to score four quick points to take the lead. The team battled inside, finding joy near the hoop to generate late offence. 

The Gladiators hit big shots, including a Durham three, which took the lead with a minute and a half left. 

Mackenzie responded with a floater before making both free throws on the next possession, meaning the game came down to a chance to tie with 10 seconds remaining for Caledonia, who found themselves down three. 

Durham took a three early in the shot clock and missed right, allowing the Riders to see out a hard-fought win. 

The win sees the Riders improve to 18-18, four points behind the second-placed Bristol Flyers with three games in hand. 

They return to league action on Friday, 24 March, taking on the Sheffield Sharks on the road.