BBL Cup Semi-Final
Leicester Riders 89 – 68 Caledonia Gladiators (30-13, 20-20, 16-23, 23-12)
(Riders – Loving 18, Whelan 17, Jackson 14; Gladiators – Tape 21, Sloan 16, Bailey 10)
Marc Loving led the Riders with 18 points, four rebounds and three assists, followed by Patrick Whelan with 17 points and seven rebounds.
Patrick Tape’s heroics were not enough for the Gladiators, despite his 21 points and 100% field goal shooting.
The match started with Leicester rushing to a double-digit lead (15-4) with less than five minutes played through their great ball movement and excellent three-point shooting.
The home side effectively found the open man and hit all five of the triples they attempted to start the game.
Their perfect offence, coupled with their tenacious defence – that forced Caledonia to take tough shots – allowed them to close out the first quarter by an impressive 17 points (30-13) after Jubril Adekoya managed to grab his own rebound and lay the ball in.
The Riders carried on in the second period from where they had left off, leading by as many as 20 points (36-16) when Aaron Menzies displayed the same hustle as his teammate Adekoya had done, grabbing the offensive rebound and laying it in, with less than seven minutes to go until the half.
The Gladiators aren’t a team that rolls over, but they slowly started to chip away at the difference.
First, with a 7-0 run capped off by Ali Fraser’s three that cut the lead down to 13 (36-23), and then with a 5-0 run, the away side managed to bring themselves back to within seven points (40-33), after their leading scorer in the half Tape (10 points), made both his free throws.
Just when the momentum seemed firmly on the Scots’ side, and the home crowd at the Morningside Arena started to get worried, the Riders regained their composure, and a 10-0 blitz closed out the first half (50-33).
The Gladiators didn’t seem to have known what hit them, with Evan Walshe putting an exclamation mark on his side’s first-half performance with a tough and-one with just one second left to play.
Despite Caledonia’s impressive comeback that saw them fight back from -20 to -7, the second quarter finished evenly 20-20, with the home side taking a 17-point lead to the locker rooms.
Leicester’s top scorer at half-time, Whelan praised his side’s performance in the first half and described his showing in straightforward terms: “I’m open; of course, I’m going to shoot”.
The third quarter was Caledonia’s best and gave the impression that this game would be very tight.
After conceding the first basket of the second half, the Gladiators went on a 9-0 run and managed to close the gap to 11 points (53-42) after David Sloan sprinted down the court on two consecutive coast-to-coast plays and laid the ball in.
The visitors then managed to get within two possessions of their opponents, shrinking the difference to just six points (55-49) after Jonny Bunyan nailed a long-range triple with four minutes left in the third period.
Two back-to-back threes by Leicester – first by Kimbal Mackenzie and then by Loving – managed to increase their lead back up to 14 (63-49).
Sloan was not done yet, though, and despite being quiet in the first half, he scored his majority of points in the third quarter (nine).
He topped it all off with an incredible shot from behind the backboard while falling over – in what can only be described as a Kobe-like shot, similar to the one the Black Mamba scored against OKC back in 2009.
Coach Paternostro and his Leicester Riders knew that their opponents were not just going to give up without a fight, and he said so in his post-game interview: “We knew they’d make a run and one of the messages was hang with it if they make a run, we’ll come back”.
That’s precisely what the home team did in the fourth quarter, dominating the final 10 minutes 23-12.
A 7-0 run saw the Riders go up by 17 (73-56) before extending the lead back up to 20 again when Zach Jackson made his fourth triple of the night (4/5), with just over three minutes left, and effectively called game.
Riders captain Darien Nelson-Henry’s mid-range jumper with two minutes to go increased the lead to a game-high of 22 points (83-61).
This allowed Coach Paternostro to give some of his bench players some minutes, with Blake Bowman and Milo Gordon stepping onto the court.
This win sets up an epic final between the top two teams in the league, with Leicester facing off against the London Lions on January 29 at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham.
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