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Leicester Riders and Newcastle Eagles grabbed victories to continue their joint pursuit of the league title.

After Newcastle dropped a game to Cheshire Phoenix at Sport Central last Friday night, it was the turn of Riders to face the Phoenix. And, they had to really work hard to escape with a 69-60 victory at Northgate Arena having trailed by six points at the half.

Slovakian forward Pavol Losonsky was the hero with a 24 point haul which was essential with Riders’ perimeter game almost non-existent.

Eagles meanwhile won in more convincing fashion with a 96-79 success at Plymouth Raiders as player-coach Fab Flournoy made his return from injury.

Anthony Martin stood out with 18 points on his return to the Pavilions, whilst Charles Smith and Kareem Maddox both claimed double-doubles. Matt Schneck top scored for Raiders with 24 points.

Glasgow Rocks are into third spot after they cruised to a 99-73 win at Durham Wildcats – a victory powered by a 30 point effort from player-coach Sterling Davis.

Saturday: Riders steal a march

Leicester Riders have opened up a gap at the top of the British Basketball League after thrashing Manchester Giants 84-59.

It was their sixth win in a row and they remain unbeaten at home all season, capitalising on the defeat that the Newcastle Eagles suffered on Friday night. Drew Sullivan led the way with 25 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists; supported by Pavol Losonsky’s 19 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists.

From the outset the Riders surged into a 12-5 lead with an 8-1 burst that included 4 points for Anthony Rowe, and they never trailed. A run from the Giants proved to be a spark for the Riders, as they responded with an 8-2 burst, 6 points in a row from Losonsky helping them into a double figure lead at 24-14 after the first ten minutes.

The Riders began to establish a commanding lead in the third period, using a 10-4 run to make the score 47-36 in a spell that was started by a Sullivan three and ended with four points in a row from Zaire Taylor. There was no way back for the Giants as the hosts were rampant in the fourth quarter. An 11-2 surge in the space of two minutes settled the game as Losonsky and Sullivan scored 4 each, sending the lead to twenty at 70-50. They pushed on from there as Sullivan added another three-pointer and the lead peaked at 81-52 in what became a 24-6 spell over six and a half minutes.

Only Ben Eaves made it into double figures with 15 points for the Giants, who suffered their fourth straight road defeat.

Plymouth Raiders overcame the slumping Surrey Heat to leapfrog their opponents into the crucial top four in the BBL Championship, prevailing through a second half comeback to win 91-89. The teams were level on 28 league points before the game, so the Raiders have put daylight between them as they bounced back from defeat in their last outing. Michael Ojo led the way with 31 points and 5 assists, while Matt Schneck had a double-double of 10 points and 16 rebounds.

The Raiders had established a strong first half lead after scoring 10 points in a row in the first quarter to lead 24-17. That became 47-35 by the half thanks, in large part, to their shooting from beyond the arc as Ojo and Barnett hit three-pointers, the former on 19 points already by the break. But the Heat opened with an 8-2 run after the half to set the tone what would come, as Cricelli scored 7 of those with the run becoming 15-5 to tie the game at 52.

Rod Brown showed his experience to settle the Raiders with an ‘and-one’ play, but even he couldn’t halt the Heat’s momentum as they took the lead soon after behind Frank Holmes and another Cricelli score; Albert Margai added a three-pointer to put the visitors 66-60 ahead.

The Heat held their lead for much of the fourth quarter until, with four minutes to play, Barnett hit another three to make the score 81-83 and a minute later Ojo did the same to give the Raiders the lead back. But that wasn’t it, despite the lead going out to 89-84 on another Barnett triple inside the final minute, as a pair of Chavis Holmes free-throws and Margai’s triple with 9 seconds remaining looked as though they may send the game into overtime. But Matt Schneck was fouled by Frank Holmes, and settled the game by making 2/2 at the line, with Cricelli missing the three-pointer that could have won the game on the buzzer.

Worcester Wolves came through double overtime to beat the London Lions 98-91.

The defeat condemned the Lions to their seventh straight road defeat, a run that stretches back to the end of October. Stan Ocitti led the way with 21 points and a big defensive effort including 6 blocks; Alex Owumi added 18 points and 7 rebounds.

The Wolves had much the better of the first half after an early 10-2 push and they led 42-36 at half time. The Lions came back to tie the game in the third quarter but the Wolves were resolute as they responded with a 13-3 surge and, in the blink of an eye, were leading by double digits at 62-52, with Kazlauskas making two three-pointers in that run and Ocitti adding another. Quick baskets from Jordan Spencer and Mike Martin helped the Lions to narrow the gap, and it was bridgeable at 67-61 heading into the decisive last ten minutes.

And so it proved, despite the Wolves seemingly settling any nerves early in the fourth quarter with Irving and Owumi scoring the first 5 points. But it turned into a nervous and low-scoring period. The hosts went scoreless for three minutes while the Lions scored 7 in a row, another Sturt triple making it 74-70 within the last three minutes. But, after a series of free-throws, it was Perry Lawson who forced the overtime period with a buzzer-beating score that capped an 11-point swing in the last five minutes of the game.

The first overtime period was also a nervous affair, as only one point was scored in the opening two minutes: a free-throw from Owumi giving the Wolves the edge. The visitors’ first score was Jackman’s three-pointer that tied the game, but the Wolves looked to have won it with Ocitti and Owumi scoring for an 86-82 lead with only 30 seconds to play. Sturt made 2/2 at the line and Jackman scored to tie the game, Williams missing the chance to win it at the buzzer for the hosts. In the second overtime period the Wolves finally buried their visitors. They again held the Lions scoreless for three and a half minutes, while scoring the first five points through Irving and Ocitti, and that cushion proved enough.

Friday: Eagles stunned

Newcastle Eagles title hopes suffered a massive knock when they were shocked 94-92 by Cheshire Phoenix on Friday night.

The Eagles had lead 90-84 inside the final two minutes of the contest, but Cheshire finished strongly and a 8-2 run tied the game up at 92-92 inside the final minute.  The home side had the opportunity to secure the victory, but a crucial turnover from Joe Chapman put the ball into Chez Marks’s hands and the Cheshire star held his nerve to lay the ball in on the buzzer and give the Phoenix the huge victory.

Charles Smith’s 30 points was the main bright spot for the Eagles, but a 31-point haul from Marks helped the visitors to the all-important victory.

At the EIS, Sheffield, the Sharks had a slightly easier game as they overcame a resilient Manchester Giants outfit to pick up an impressive 95-87 victory.

22 points from Mike Tuck helped the Sharks to the victory as the hosts leapt out to a 13 point lead at 73-60 early in the final quarter, but the Giants managed to keep themselves in the contest but could not close the gap to less than seven points down the stretch as the Sharks held on for the all-important victory.

Worcester Wolves enjoyed an extremely comfortable 119-64 victory over the Mersey Tigers. 17 points from Arnas Kazlauskas was the stand-out performance for the Wolves and Gael Hulsen matched that performance to lead the Tigers scoring.

A Jack Hudson basket for the Tigers to open the game was the only lead that the visitors would have in the contest as the Wolves enjoyed a great deal of success throughout the game enjoying their biggest lead of the game at 55 points with the score at 105-50 in the final quarter.

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