BBL Cup Quarter Finals
Bristol Flyers 95-76 Manchester Giants (27-21, 25-18, 24-21, 19-16)
Flyers – Watson-Gayle 21, Delpeche 18, King 16; Giants – Green 19, Williams 17, Fletcher 14
Leicester Riders 94-73 Newcastle Eagles (24-20, 25-17, 29-13, 16-22)
Riders – Loving 27, Thornton 21, Jackson 13; Eagles – Johnson 24, Hamlet 14, Defoe 9
The Cup is the first major silverware up for grabs in any BBL season, with the Final taking place at the end of January, so some games in the early part of the 2022-23 calendar have had a little extra juice to them. Saturday’s clashes between the Bristol Flyers and Manchester Giants, and the Leicester Riders versus the Newcastle Eagles, were among those. And when the final buzzers sounded, the Bristol Flyers emerged victorious with a 95-76 win over the Manchester Giants.
Jelani Watson-Gayle led the Flyers with 21 points while Tajh Green had a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds in vain for the Giants.
Leicester Riders also advanced to the last four by securing a 94-73 victory over the Newcastle Eagles at the Morningside Arena. Marc Loving shot 10/12 from the field, on his way to 27 points for the Riders, while Great Britain international Kyle Johnson had 24 for the Eagles.
Inside the SGS Arena in Bristol, the hosts got out to an early lead, with last week’s All-Star Five member Vincent King igniting the crowd on a fast break. Mike Miller got a steal on one end and found Thomas Bell III, who got the ball up in the air for King. Manchester’s imposing defender Green stopped an alley-oop shot, but King showed great patience to come down with the ball, then pivot beneath the basket and get an up-and-under layup.
Green didn’t let this dissuade him. He led the charge on the offensive end for the Giants, who caught up halfway through the first quarter, but the local support kept the Flyers energised.
With 40 seconds to go, it was King again who controlled the flow of the game by pushing the pace. Manchester’s defence recovered, but they were out of position, and King drove to the middle of the court then kicked it out to Jelani Watson-Gayle, who hit an open three to push the lead to 10 points.
A cross-court pass attempt on the final Bristol possession saw Manchester’s Dirk Williams pick it off and burst back down the other end for an open dunk to close the quarter.
Much like he finished the first, Williams got an easy score at the basket, but the Giants couldn’t capitalise on this momentum.
The Flyers were feeding Malcolm Delpeche down low, who hit hook shot after hook shot to maintain their lead. He and the Flyers were getting everything they wanted below the three-point line, so the Giants started closing ranks in the paint, which opened up Bristol’s Corey Samuels, who hit a huge shot from distance to extend the lead to 16.
Manchester chased the lead, but they looked a little shaken with less than a minute to go in the half. The Bristol defence got physical for the full length of the court, which knocked Nathan Robinson to his knees and he had to give up the ball, only to get it back when he got up and relocated. With the shot clock winding down, he kept his composure and found his way into the lane for a smooth fadeaway pump fake then pivot in for a contested layup. There was still a long way to go, as the Giants ended the first half down 13.
A fast and physical two minutes to start the second half was entertaining but produced no points. Nerves led to misses and multiple offensive rebounds for both sides, but the tension in Filton was broken when Bell attacked the rim in a one-on-three fast break and was fouled by Anthony Roberson. Bell hit both free throws, which seemed to loosen the lid on the rims in the arena.
On the other end big man Legend Robertin got inside for a dunk, then each team traded threes before Bristol’s King leaked out for what looked like an open layup. It wasn’t to be, as Roberson seemingly sprouted wings and flew back down the court to block it on the backboard, which gave Manchester’s Rahmon Fletcher a fast break layup of his own while getting fouled.
He missed the free throw, but got his own rebound and scored again to cut the gap to 10, which forced Flyers coach Andrea Kapoulas to call a timeout.
This helped the home team refocus and set up a couple of offensive possessions. Tevin Olison got downhill to score at the rim, then Watson-Gayle was freed up on the perimeter for three, and the momentum stayed with them. As the buzzer went to end the third period, the Flyers had a 16-point lead.
It was going to be a tough task for Manchester with a rowdy audience rooting against them in Bristol. Fletcher was working hard to get to the line, but the offensive flow dried up for the Giants.
On the other end, Olison caught fire. The guard scored 8 points in the quarter, and the gap kept growing. The Giants couldn’t claw it back, as the home team kept the pressure high to set up a Semi Final, when they welcome the London Lions into their raucous arena.
The reigning BBL Cup champions, Leicester Riders, don’t have the same roster that helped them win the Final in January this year in Birmingham, but they are still a force to be reckoned with this season.
The team has historically relied on a ferocious defence under head coach Rob Paternostro, but this year, the team’s offence is fuelling them to wins.
To find seams, the visiting Newcastle Eagles worked pick and roll early between David Cohn and big man Kyle Johnson. The point guard found Johnson rolling through the lane in the first few minutes, which helped them hold on to a slim lead early after starting out hot.
It was Leicester’s Marc Loving who led the charge back to turn things around for the home team. He’s averaged 15.6 points in the Championship so far this season, good enough for eleventh in the BBL, but he finished the first quarter with 11, on his way to out-perform his typical numbers.
The back and forth nature of the second quarter meant the gap didn’t change too much, until Jubril Adekoya hit an open three in the corner, which helped remove the cork on the Riders’ basket.
On an out of bounds play that got Kimbal Mackenzie curling around a Nelson-Henry screen on the weak side, the point guard fed the big man who dunked it home. Then, while bringing the ball up the court, a screen near half court got Loving open for three to create the first real gap of the game between the two sides as they went into the locker room.
The Eagles’ weren’t so lucky to close the second quarter, and it didn’t get much better to open the third. Within three minutes of the second half, Leicester had opened a 21-point lead.
It was part of a 19-0 run by the home team that ended after a Newcastle timeout. A play was designed for Jermel Kennedy to get close to the rim. The veteran missed his shot, but showed savvy to chase down the offensive rebound and get a layup.
Being in such a deep hole made it difficult for the visitors, and it wasn’t helped by the ease and comfort that Loving played with. This was exemplified by an isolation possession in the fourth when he drove left but the baseline was closed. He calmly retreated and reset with a crossover and rose up for a beautiful mid-range fadeaway.
This put his team up 30 points, but his performance wasn’t just scoring, as he had displayed good team basketball, getting the likes of Derryck Thornton open, and grabbing several rebounds throughout the contest.
Despite the excellent individual play, Loving was keen to praise his teammates after the game, and said: “We played really well. I think we picked it up on defence and I’m happy we executed and held them to 73 points.”
Also pleased with the team’s defence, Coach Paternostro didn’t want to miss the chance to praise his star player: “Marc Loving really put us on his back early. He’s the type of guy that when he gets going he’s hard to stop.”
Loving led the Riders to a big win at home to advance to the Semi Final. Who they face will be decided in Sunday’s game between the Sheffield Sharks and Caledonia Gladiators.