LEICESTER IN SEMIS, SMITH RE-JOINS THUNDER

Leicester Riders qualified for the BBL Trophy semi-finals with a 79-61 blowout of Milton Keynes Lions, posting a club-record eleventh straight home court victory in all competitions.

It was a superb team display by the Riders who were terrific defensively as the Lions wilted in the heat of intense defensive pressure as the Riders set up a last four clash against Guildford Heat.

“It is a massive achievement for us to make the semi-finals of the BBL Trophy,” Riders coach Rob Paternostro said. “It is also pretty unique to have played in such a big game so early in the season.

“I thought defensively we really set the tone tonight right from the beginning of the game and that made the difference for us.”

Meanwhile in the other Trophy game played on Saturday night, Worthing Thunder defeated Plymouth Raiders 93-75. The hosts shrugged off the absence of injured playmaker Evaldas Zabas to finally chalk up a first win at the fourth time of asking having capitalised on a third quarter collapse by the Raiders.

While Coach Alan Sweetman-Hicks was delighted with his first victory in the BBL as Head Coach albeit on a temporary basis, Sunday’s game with Cheshire is set to be his last at the helm as former play-caller Gary Smith prepares to return.

“We really came up big as a team and while it feels good to get the win, personally, I am hoping this will be my last weekend as coach,” he said. “Gary Smith could possibly have been coaching tonight but he has been stuck down with glandular fever so we will have to wait and see how he is next week but first we have the game with the Jets to focus on.”

Worcester Wolves and Cheshire Jets are the early leaders of the BBL Championship after both notched their second wins of the season.

Paul James’s Worcester Wolves team turned in a thoroughly professional performance to hammer Essex Pirates 93-44 on the road in the south-east.

Wolves began the match well with Rod Middleton opening the contest with back-to-back three pointers before the visitors moved into a 20-8 on the back of a 12-4 burst. There was no way back for Pirates after that.

The Jets had to work hard to hold off Worthing Thunder in Chester. A double-digit half time lead was whittled away until Jets hung on for a 74-67 victory.

Guildford Heat opened their BBL Championship campaign with an impressive victory over Glasgow Rocks. With 24 points from Martelle McLemore and 20 and 16 from Julius Joseph and Mike Martin respectively the Heat led from tip to buzzer to give coach Creon Raftopoulous the best possible start.

Milton Keynes ended Mersey Tigers unbeaten start to the season in some style with an 82-70 victory at the Stoke Mandeville Stadium.

Newcastle’s misery continues

In the Trophy on Friday, Mersey Tigers overcame Worcester Wolves by 77-63 on Merseyside, led by the British trio of Drew Sullivan (18 points), Andrew Thomson (17) and Tafari Toney (14).

The hosts opened up double digit leads in the second and third quarter, but couldn’t shake of the Wolves until the fourth quarter. They entered the fourth leading 63-51 after Perry Lawson and David Aliu hit three-pointer in an 8-0 burst. Danny Gilbert’s triple in the fourth got the Wolves back within seven at 65-58, but the Tigers saw the game out from that point. The lead peaked at 77-62 on Thomson’s score.

Meanwhile, a thrilling encounter ensued in Sheffield where the Sharks edged out Newcastle 92-91. The Sharks had led by double figures in the first half but the visitors recovered to nudge in front in the before a clutch free-throw from Steve Dagostino won the game for the hosts. Mike Tuck led the Sharks with 24 while Trey Moore had 18 for Newcastle who lost their third straight.

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