Leicester Riders vs London Lions
(19-30, 9-17, 24-18, 23-16)
Riders – Jackson 14, Mackenzie 13, Loving/Whelan 12; Lions – Dekker 21, Koufos 17, Ward-Hibbert 12
The London Lions put on a defensive clinic in the first half to beat the Leicester Riders in a tightly contested 81-75 victory at the Morningside Arena on Tuesday night.
The Riders came into the game with a 23-game winning streak on their home floor, and the Morningside Arena was packed for one of the season’s biggest matchups.
Another win would have seen Leicester equal their longest streak of 24 home wins, a record they set during the 2012/2013 season. Instead, it was the Riders’ first home loss since November 2021.
The Riders currently sit at the top of the league table, but the Lions boast the most impressive record – losing only two games this season.
With this latest win, London will feel confident going into their BBL Cup Final with Leicester next month, having beaten their nearest rivals, the Riders and the Bristol Flyers, in the last few weeks.
Sam Dekker led all scorers for London with 21 points. Kosta Koufos was a formidable presence inside, scoring 16 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. For the Riders, Zach Jackson had 14, and Kimbal Mackenzie finished with 13 points.
The Lions, who have one of the best defensive records in the league, utilised their impressive size and athleticism to limit the number of three-pointers for the Riders in the first half.
Leicester connected on one of their six three-point attempts and shot 28% from the field. The Lions also were dominant on the boards, grabbing 12 more than their opponents in the first half despite playing without Tomislav Zubcic.
Former Leicester guard Josh Ward-Hibbert started in place of Zubcic and earned his place in the lineup scoring 12 points and grabbing ten boards. It was also a battle between GBs finest young players, Patrick Whelan and Luke Nelson.
The visitors came out aggressive. Koufos opened the scoring off a pick-and-roll pass from Jordan Taylor before Nelson knocked down the three from the top of the key.
Whelan was the bright spark for the Riders early, finding a few openings and converting from the free-throw line. However, the momentum was firm with the visitors.
Ward Hibbert iced a corner three off a Dekker assist. The latter added five quick points off his own with a three-pointer and a putback off the Koufos miss.
An and-one from Koufos and further scores from Ward-Hibbert and Hruban gave the Lions an 11-point lead early in the first quarter.
Dekker closed the dominant quarter with a buzzer-beater over 7’3″ Aaron Menzies. The last time the Riders were down 19 at home was January 2010, when they trailed 53-29 to Glasgow Rocks.
Jubril Adekoye led the Riders’ second-quarter push with a couple of strong defensive plays and got on the scoreboard with a baseline finish.
But the Lions turned to their big man Koufos, who knocked down a couple of hook shots and exploited the Riders’ zone defence. The Riders got some instant offence from Mackenzie, who scored on a blistering left-handed drive and then nailed a pull-up jumper, plus the foul.
Closing out the second quarter, Ward-Hibbert knocked down the second buzzer-beater of the evening.
Derryck Thornton and Jackson opened the scoring for the Riders in the third quarter – with the Riders looking like a new team. Jackson personally added six points and capped it off with an and-one over Nelson.
Nelson and Thornton traded a pair of three-pointers as the Riders hovered at the 12-point margin.
Marc Loving summed up the home side’s resilience in the third, patiently working in the mid-post – pivoting, he faked, spun and threw up a one-legged jumper to beat the shot clock.
The Lions were beginning to cool off after their blistering first half. Turnovers, which have been the Lions’ Achilles heel this season, led to scores for Mackenzie and Whelan to bring the lead to only eight points.
Sam Dekker calmly put together 19 points and connected on a three-pointer to open the final quarter. He and Hruban put a quick 5-0 run together, which prompted Leicester coach Rob Paternostro into the timeout.
The Lions turned to Koufos, who scored on the block as he had done all night. But the Riders kept the game close – Jackson continued his second-half tear, rising for a transition three to cut the deficit back to 7 points.
With Loving finding the net, too, a Dekker fumble seemed to give Leicester hope with a minute to play and only trailing by four points.
However, the Riders could not capitalise on the extra possession, and Dekker’s two free throws put the game out of reach, ending the 23-game winning streak at home.
For all the latest BBL news, highlights and updates, the BBL site is your number one destination.