The Riders will take the long, straight trip up the M1 this Friday as they take on the Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles in a win-or-go-home clash in Group B of the British Basketball League Trophy.
With two wins in the bank, Rob Paternostro’s squad know that victory in the Vertu Motors Arena sends them through to the final four of the competition to face the winners of Group A.
Leicester Riders @ Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles
Vertu Motors Arena, Newcastle
Friday, January 19, 7:45pm
Welcome to ‘Knockout’ Basketball
Leicester’s young squad face possibly the most pressurised night of the season on Friday, with the unenviable prospect of bowing out of the League Trophy lurking behind a loss.
However, much of this squad have faced games of this magnitude before. Kimbal Mackenzie, Conner Washington, Mo Walker and Blake Bowman have all suited up for the Riders multiple times in playoff basketball and in the latter stages of cup competitions, and first-year Riders’ Teddy Allen and TJ Lall have both experienced the pressure of the CEBL playoffs.
A much-improved defence has propelled Leicester into their second-place spot in Group B, a point against per game average of less than 84 proof that the squad is gelling nicely in 2024.
The tighter defence has come both on the front court – led by Miryne Thomas and Walker – and on the perimeter, with Allen proving his worth without the ball alongside his skills with it.
Those three have shown quick hands all through January, leading the Riders with over two steals per 40 minutes.
Double-digit home victories over the Bristol Flyers and Manchester Giants – where Leicester put up 104 – demonstrate that things are also clicking on the offensive side of the ball.
Teddy ‘Buckets’ has continued his devastating form, leading the league with 24 points per game, but it is the contributions of Lall and Samuel Idowu from the bench that have kept the Riders ahead in those games.
The second-unit pair are knocking down nearly 24 points a night between them, punctuated by Lall’s 19 points against Manchester and Idowu’s pair of double-doubles versus Bristol and the London Lions.
With Newcastle’s well-publicised injury troubles potentially acting as a hamper, expect coach Paternostro to utilise the full reach of his squad on Friday night to go into a crucial fourth quarter with the fresher team.
Coming Through in the Clutch
Like the Riders, the Eagles have won two games in a tough League Trophy Group B, although one of the victories was far from comfortable.
Leicester’s 104-88 defeat of the Manchester Giants last Wednesday laid down the gauntlet to the Flyers and the Eagles. Losing in Bristol could have meant the end of Newcastle’s campaign.
The contest was as tight as predictions expected, both teams trading blow-for-blow over the 40 minutes with both winning two quarters each.
Decorated veteran Darius Defoe had the final say, finding himself free after a scramble to drop in a two-pointer with 19 seconds remaining in the game. Defoe’s clutch bucket was reward for the depleted Eagles, who could only send six senior players onto the court.
Both teams have had at least a week to rest ahead of Friday’s clash, but it appears that Marc Steutel’s squad will still be without Josh Ward-Hibbert, Will Neighbour, Devin Whitfield and Scott Spencer.
As a result, many of the remaining Eagles have clocked heavy minutes in January, reflected by the four players who average over 15 points per game. Jordan Johnson, Larry Austin Jr., Tajh Green and Rickey McGill have done well to keep the team in winning form, and prove why Newcastle are a tough opponent, despite the injuries.
The battles between the Riders and Eagles have carried an added spice this season, with Leicester leading the series 2-1. Due to the high stakes – and the fact that new Rider Duke Shelton is returning to his former club – the Vertu Motors Arena will be bouncing come Friday night.
Newcastle will be hoping to shine under the bright lights.
As intriguing as it is to see Shelton returning to his former club, the juiciest matchup in this game has got to be the battle of the scorers – Jordan Johnson and Teddy ‘Buckets’ Allen.
Floor general Johnson has shown true leadership qualities in recent weeks for the Eagles. The former Caledonia Gladiators point guard is in top form, averaging 20 points per game in Group B.
Often required to be Newcastle’s primary scoring option, the 27-year-old can do it all, whether it’s draining shots from beyond the arc (42% from three) or driving into the lane before finessing home a tricky layup.
Johnson has played in the NBA G-League and across Europe (Netherlands, Kosovo and Germany), and his experience will tell during Friday’s biggest moments.
Aiming to go bucket-for-bucket with Johnson will be the Riders’ mid-season magician, Teddy ‘Buckets’ Allen.
The CEBL MVP has only suited up for Leicester seven times but has already made a sizeable impression with his scoring ability and fearlessness when taking big shots.
Allen began his time with the Riders with a 32-point exhibition of three-point shooting. His numbers from downtown have calmed somewhat during the League Trophy, but the 6’6” winger has shown versatility by sauntering into the post to drop a layup or earn a trip to the free throw line.
It is the charity stripe where the former Winnipeg Bear has really shone, hitting 22 free throws (the most in the league) at a clip of over 90%.
The battle between these two premium scorers is sure to be an exhilarating one. One thing is for sure – even if the game is low-scoring, Johnson and Allen are sure to get theirs.
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