The Riders tipped off their BBL playoffs campaign with a win in Plymouth, beating the Patriots 86-71 in the first leg of the quarter-finals.
Patrick Whelan led the team with 19 points and seven rebounds in his first BBL playoff game, his strong third-quarter setting the tone for Leicester. The Riders won the third 25-18, building their lead before maintaining their advantage in the fourth.
Reigning MVP Geno Crandall also put up big numbers in the win, scoring 18 points. His defensive efforts also showed in the box score, as the Gonzaga graduate, who finished the season ranking top 10 in steals per game, added another four to his season tally.
After scoring just 12 in the first quarter, the Riders’ BBL-best offence clicked into gear and scored at a 100 point pace the rest of the way. They hit eight threes in three periods after not hitting one in the first, and shot their foul shots at an efficient rate, making 22 of 24.
They held the Patriots to under 20 points in each quarter, despite a 16 point performance from Kent State point guard Troy Simons. Plymouth struggled to lock in from deep, going 4-16 from three, and turned the ball over 14 times.
But it was the hosts who jumped out to a quick start, hitting their first five shots to build a quick 10-2 lead. Leicester endured early offensive struggles, starting 1-6 for two points in five minutes. They hung in the tie through their work on the defensive end, as the Patriots went 1-6 after their hot start. But six turnovers in the quarter meant the Riders trailed 17-12 after the first.
The sides traded buckets to start the second, as Conner Washington got the quarter started with the Riders’ first three of the game, taking the lid off the basket. After former Rider Rashad Hassan responded with two quick Plymouth baskets down low, Washington drained another deep shot to tie the game three minutes into the second.
The score continued to swing back and forth to close the half, which was concluded in style by Crandall. Isolating against the bigger Hassan, he jab-stepped before cooly draining a three in his face, taking a 37-36 lead entering the locker rooms. Crandall scored 10 points in the first half to lead Leicester to a narrow advantage.
Three fouls in two minutes to start the second half sidelined Crandall, so it was Patrick Whelan who stepped up in the third. He scored eight points, including two threes to stretch the lead to eight.
Zach Jackson closed the quarter scoring 10 straight Riders points, as a 10-2 run closed the period to put Leicester up double digits. The Omaha graduate drained a three as the clock ticked down, making it 64-52 in his team’s favour.
Whelan and Jackson continued their form in the final period, scoring a basket each to get the action underway, as the Riders kept the Patriots at arm’s length in the fourth.
Crandall concluded the tie with a tough finish at the rim for his sixth points of the quarter, as the Riders carried a strong advanatge into the return leg.
The Riders look to seal the deal in front of their home crowd on Sunday, as they host the second leg of this fixture. A win on aggregate score would see them advance to the semi-finals, as Leicester aim for the treble.