The Riders begin 2024 by welcoming the Bristol Flyers to the Morningside Arena in Round One of the British Basketball League Trophy.
The competition’s format has been revamped this season, placing Rob Paternostro’s squad in Group B with the championship-leading London Lions, the in-form Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles, the dangerous Manchester Giants and the always-tough Flyers.
Leicester Riders vs Bristol Flyers
Morningside Arena, Leicester
Friday, January 5, 7:00pm
One Shot Away
Riders’ fans will be keen to see the return of the British Basketball League Trophy competition after last season’s second-round exit to the B. Braun Sheffield Sharks. The pure knockout format saw the Riders play just two games – both on the road.
The opening round was an entertaining 114-107 victory in Manchester, the Riders benefitting from a deadly night of three-pointers from Marc Loving and Zach Jackson, who finished with 32 and 25 points each.
Fellow former Rider Patrick Whelan also splashed for 20 points, and current Riders’ captain Kimbal Mackenzie dropped 18 in a typically energetic display.
Both Loving and Whelan pulled down enough rebounds for a double-double as the Riders matched an excellent rebounding team in the Giants.
Posting double-doubles will be tough for the current Leicester squad against a Flyers team containing Brad Greene (17 boards against the Riders on December 28) but look for 2024’s power forward-shooting guard duo of Miryne Thomas and Teddy Allen to replicate Loving and Whelan.
The second-round loss told the opposite story for last season’s squad, who fired more shots than the Sharks but only converted at a 17% clip from deep.
Loving, Jackson and Mackenzie once more led the way for the Riders in the box score, but only four of their 23 three-ball attempts hit the mark, allowing the Sharks to take advantage of a rare night of inaccuracy.
The current crop of Riders ended 2023 with a clash against the Sharks and the ball hit nothing but net from downtown. Leicester’s shooting percentage has been a major strength this season, demonstrated by the team hitting 50% from inside the arc, 51% from beyond it and 87% from the free throw line in the victory on December 30.
If the Riders want to get their Trophy campaign off to a flyer, they need to learn from the mistakes of last season’s second-round performance.
An Early Exit
If Riders’ supporters were starved of Trophy action, the Flyers’ faithful must be ravenous after last year’s first-round exit to the Surrey Scorchers.
Bristol hosted the Southeasterners and – given the form of each team – will have been confident of victory. However, in a minor shock the Scorchers rode the hot hands of Padiet Wang and Boban Jacdonmi to claim a deserved 78-72 win.
The Flyers, who have struggled hitting from the floor efficiently this season, suffered the same woes last January, dropping only 37% of their field goals despite having 12 more attempts than the visitors.
They also failed to outrebound Surrey, a problem 2024’s squad do not have.
Assisted by their hulking centre Greene and a brilliant showing from Rowell Graham-Bell, the Flyers bested the Riders on the boards 48-40 on December 28, and after a poor first half, shot accurately enough in the second half to take the win.
Leicester allowed Friday’s first-round opponents too many second-chance points the last time they visited the Morningside. Victory may hinge on how well the Riders’ frontcourt manages to box out the ball-hunting Greene.
As previously mentioned, the battle to grab missed shots between Brad Greene and the Riders’ ‘bigs’ is going to be huge, but the supplementary scoring from Rowell Graham-Bell and Miryne Thomas could become the deciding factor in the game.
Versatile British forward Graham-Bell showed the Riders how effective he can be in a supporting role in their last game.
The 29-year-old’s experience led him to 14 points and eight boards – all on the defensive end of the court – despite dealing with two personal fouls early in the game.
A journeyman who has played primarily in Spain, Graham-Bell is a big-bodied defender who has the range to pull up for long two balls or the occasional three.
He is averaging just north of ten points per game as the Flyers’ fourth scoring option and has nearly broken the 20-point barrier on several occasions.
Aiming to use his speed and athleticism to outplay Graham-Bell will be Riders’ rookie Miryne Thomas.
On form Thomas has proven to be one of the most devastating power forwards in the league, able to blend his offence between high-flying jams and picturesque threes.
The young American is also improving dramatically on defence, using his length and timing to block multiple shots a game.
The Ohioan is currently in sparkling form, earning a spot on the British Basketball League Team of the Week for superb performances against the Sharks and the Flyers.
Thomas is averaging a cool 12 points per game this season and has posted multiple double-doubles.
He will need to continue that form into the Trophy. The first obstacle is Graham-Bell and the Flyers.
How to watch
This game will not be available to view via live-stream. Therefore, the only way to watch the action is at the Arena.
You can purchase tickets for the game here.
If you cannot attend the fixture, we will be providing updates throughout the game on our social media channels.