LEICESTER RIDERSIt’s Leicester Riders title to lose.  An 80-69 victory over Newcastle Eagles on Wednesday night leaves the British Basketball League leaders just two wins away from clinching their first ever championship.

Their coronation could come as soon as this weekend, most likely on Sunday when Rob Paternostro’s men visit Manchester after hosting Glasgow 24 hours before.

And who can now say it would be undeserved? For the third time this season, Leicester had just too much for the side they will now – bar an astonishing collapse – depose as champions, pulling away in the fourth quarter to seal a win which meant so much.

Fab Flournoy’s men did not quite have enough. And a fifth loss in eight games underlined their loss of supremacy, leaving them now with no option but to re-gather themselves and prepare for the defence of their play-off crown.

As you’d expect, they did not lack fight.

It was the Eagles who started the game the stronger side as they moved out to an early 14-5 advantage midway through the opening quarter.  The Riders – with Pavol Losonsky returning – stormed their way back into the contest as an Andrew Sullivan basket ended a 12-3 finish to the period to see both teams locked together at 17-17 at the end of the first period.

In the second quarter, a 9-0 Riders tear took them out to a 28-22 lead midway through the period, but the Eagles scored six of the next eight points to keep themselves right in the contest at 30-28.  That was as close as the visitors would get however for the remainder of the half as the home side finished much the stronger side, and a 10-4 finish sent the Riders into the locker room leading 42-32 at the half.

In the second half, an 11-1 run for the visitors early in the third quarter saw the Eagles get right back into the contest and reduce the defict back to two points at 45-43.  A Kareem Maddox basket with 2:41 remaining in the quarter gave the visitors a 51-50 lead, but that was the last time that the Eagles would have in the contest as the Riders ended the period with six of the last nine points to lead 56-54 heading into the final stanza.

In the final period, a Charles Smith basket tied the game at 56-56, but the Riders broke the game open as a Jay Couisnard basket sparked a 13-2 burst for the home side to take the score out to 69-58 with less than three minutes remaining in the contest.

The Eagles tried desperately to get themselves back into the game down the stretch, but were unable to do so with any significance as the Riders picked up the all-important victory and increase their lead over the Eagles at the top of the table to eight points.

Couisnard led the Riders in scoring with 18 points for the home side, while Damon Huffman led the scoring for the Eagles with 18.

Elsewhere, Sheffield Sharks moved themselves above the London Lions into seventh position in the table with a 82-67 victory over Plymouth Raiders at the EIS.

After the Raiders led 18-16 at the end of the opening period, the Sharks came right back into the game with an 11-3 burst in the second quarter to take the score out to 27-21.

The Sharks – paced by 21 points from Demetrius Jemison – held onto their lead for the majority of what was left in the game and despite a pair of Jamal Williams free-throws to get the visitors back to within seven points at 72-65 midway through the final quarter, the Sharks finished the game with a 10-2 burst to enjoy their biggest lead of the game at 82-67.

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