Leicester Riders 77-102 London Lions (19-25, 35-48, 58-77)
(Riders: MacKenzie, 18; Jackson, 17; Loving, 14 — Lions: Dekker, 18; Sharma/Hruban, 17; Soluade, 14)
Newcastle Eagles 66-68 Bristol Flyers (22-19, 41-32, 57-49)
(Eagles: Hamlet, 24; Johnson, 17; Gordon, 8 — Flyers: King, 12, Bell/Olison, 10; Samuels, 9)
In a rematch of January’s BBL Cup final, London dominated from tip to buzzer in front of the Sky Sports cameras as they secured their third win over the Riders in the league and fourth overall this season.
Sam Dekker led the winners with 18 points, with Josh Sharma adding 17 as the Lions have the BBL Championship title in their sights.
“Coming off the national team break, we wanted to get back into rhythm and keep up our momentum after our win over Bristol,” Sharma said.
“We came in to execute our principles and do what we can.”
Fresh off his first cap for Great Britain earlier this week, Kimbal MacKenzie led Leicester with 18 points.
Following a solid start from the hosts, London fought back, with Mo Soluade capping off a 14-0 run with a triple to give the visitors a 13-8 lead midway through the first.
Leicester would respond and play better team basketball, but after the first period, trailed the Lions 25-19.
As the second quarter began, London’s offensive execution was sublime; they went on an 8-0 spurt to lead 33-19, highlighted by a colossal transition lob, caught and hammered home by Sharma.
As the second quarter concluded, London had shot 58% from two-point land, hitting six three-pointers for good measure to lead by 48-35 at the half.
Riders – who committed just four fouls in the first half – got into early foul trouble as the third quarter started as Sharma extended London’s lead to 64-43 with more than five minutes remaining.
Riders cut the deficit towards the end of the third from the free throw line, only to be hit with a three from Aaron Best on the buzzer to give the visitors a 77-58 cushion.
Even for a team as strong as Leicester, it was too big a deficit to overcome, as London shot 47% from the field, which included going 14/29 from three-point land to widen the gap at the top.
As they did against Newcastle in their last encounter, though, the Flyers had to come from behind as a 19-9 fourth quarter got them out of jail.
VJ King paced Bristol to victory with 12 points, supported by Thomas Bell and Tevin Olison, who got added 10 as the Flyers stay second.
Javion Hamlet led all scorers with 24 in vain for Newcastle.
Both teams traded buckets to start until Thomas Bell created a bit of breathing space with a score inside to give the visitors a 10-6 lead with 4:42 left.
Newcastle, though, were knocking at the door, and they eventually took an 18-16 lead with a step-back three-pointer.
And the Eagles maintained their lead throughout the first, taking a 22-19 advantage into the second, where they started to go up a gear.
The hosts held Bristol to just eight points in eight minutes as Javion Hamlet drove through traffic to score, giving his side a 38-27 advantage en route to a 41-32 lead at the half.
Bristol, who had let their opponents shoot 50% from the field at the half, could not match Newcastle’s accuracy; however, as the third quarter began, they also started to find their rhythm.
Brandon Mahan gave the Flyers hope with a three to narrow the gap to 51-37 and a further 9-0 run to reduce it more to 55-49, making them believe with a minute left.
Hamlet ended the run with a floater inside to hang on to the lead going into the fourth.
Newcastle’s lead in the final quarter peaked at seven points, but with less than 30 seconds left, Bristol’s persistent play paid off, as Jelani Watson-Gayle scored to give the visitors a 67-66 lead which they hung on to as David Cohn’s Hail Mary from his own half, missed its mark.
One game tomorrow (Saturday) as Surrey Scorchers host Caledonia Gladiators. To catch all the action, like and subscribe to the BBL YouTube channel.