The Riders dominated their BBL Championship opener against their BBL rivals, beating the Newcastle Eagles 100-77 to continue their seven-game winning streak. Zach Jackson went off for a season-high 26 points through three quarters, Leicester’s 28 point lead allowing them to sit their starters in the fourth. Jackson’s performance came off just 14 shots, the Omaha graduate torching the Eagles by making four of his five threes.
The BBL’s best offence went off for a big scoring night on the Sky Sports cameras, making 11 threes for 47% from deep. Patrick Whelan, who had an 11 point performance on the game, enjoyed his success in the spaced offence.
“It’s great. A lot of times they have to close out on Zach, Marc or Kimbal, and it leaves me wide open. It makes my job so much easier”.
The Riders offence clicked, its elite ball movement generating a massive 28 assists. Leicester had six players scoring in double digits, sharing the wealth in the blowout win in an electric Morningside Arena.
“Keep showing up and we’ll keep getting wins”, said Whelan in his post-game message to Riders fans. “We loved the energy in here tonight and next time we’ll win even bigger if you guys come out!”
On his return to Morningside Arena, former Rider Corey Johnson led the Eagles with 22 points. The Canadian wing made six of his eleven shots and all seven of his free throws in an attempt to battle back into the game. However, Newcastle’s league-worst defence continued in their struggles despite Johnson’s efforts, unable to contain the Riders fluid offence.
Despite the final scoreline, there was little to separate a tightly contested opening period; the Eagles up 22-20 through ten minutes. Mo Walker and Whelan kick-started the Riders season with back to back dunks, as Marc Loving led Leicester’s first quarter with five points.
The Riders established a lead in the second. Geno Crandall’s handles started a 12-4 Riders run, the Gonzaga graduate beat two-time MVP Rahmon Fletcher off the dribble before dishing down low to Mo Walker. Leicester took their first double-digit lead of the game, locking down the short-handed Eagles, who waited 15 minutes for their first bench points. Crandall finished the half with a drive and finish at the hoop, the teams entered the locker room with the hosts up 51-35.
Leicester came out firing in the second half, knocking down five threes to extend their lead to 20. Jackson hit two deep shots, leading the Riders through the quarter with ten points to put the game beyond much doubt. The hosts entered the final period up 78-58, in a strong position to see the tie out.
Up big in the fourth quarter, the Riders stepped on the pedal to blow the Eagles out the water. Seven quick points put Leicester up 28 with nine minutes on the clock before they saw out the game comfortably for their first win of the season.
“Our offence this year has been excellent. Three-point shooting, free-throw shooting, two-point shooting. Everything” said coach Rob Paternostro post-game. “The other stat that is important for us is 11 turnovers. When you shoot the ball, move the ball and take care of the ball that well, you’re going to put big numbers on the board”.
Paternostro gave credit to the fans for the energy on the court. “The atmosphere was great, and our players fed off that. Everybody loves playing in front of a packed house”.
The Riders conclude their BBL Cup Group next Sunday, fighting for the top spot against the London Lions. They head to the Copperbox Arena, hoping to secure home-court advantage for the knockout stages.