RIDERS LEAVE EAGLES ON THE CANVAS

Leicester Riders routed Newcastle Eagles 84-63 to lift the BBL Playoff title.

If it had been a boxing match, the contest would have been stopped long before the finish to prevent undue punishment.

Completing a domestic treble, Rob Paternostro’s side were relentless in their pursuit, haranguing their rivals into submission at each and every turn in front of a BBL-record 15,000 crowd at London’s 02 Arena.

Bruised and battered by allowing the Riders to rush into a rapid 24-8 lead, the Tyneside outfit sustained one body blow after another as the advantage was consolidated and then deepened with a game-high 18 points from Andy Thomson spearheading the charge.

Newcastle player-coach Fab Flournoy, making what could be his last appearance at the tender age of 43, could summon no heroics from his team as double and triple teams were thrown in their path.

Taylor King sparked a 10-0 run in a torrid first quarter for the BBL Cup winners in which they shot just 5-23 from the field as Leicester constructed rock-solid foundations, with the American downing an exquisite lob pass from Pierre Hampton that had their side up 38-13 early in the second.

“I thought the way we jumped out on them in the first quarter really set the tone,” Paternostro affirmed.

It took until midway through the period for Eagles to add consecutive baskets but when they walked off the floor 47-27 in arrears at half-time, an escape from their torment appeared unlikely.

So it proved. Leicester’s strength in depth has been an asset all year and it was deployed to devastating effect with pointed cameos off the bench from Thomson and Drew Sullivan against their former club.

“When we built the team that’s what we wanted,” Paternostro added. “I thought we were going to have a group that would have the depth, not only to compete for the championship but also to practice. We can go five-on-five with good players and that’s how we improved.”

Only during one 7-0 burst did Newcastle rise out of the gloom but with Rahmon Fletcher shackled despite a team-high of 16 points, their offensive flow was stymied to only eight assists in total.

Even with struggles for both combatants from three-point range, Leicester out-scored the Tyneside outfit 46-36 in the paint and it glued the pendulum in their favour.

And with little slippage, and 14 points and 14 rebounds from Hampton – the game’s MVP – illustrating their due diligence, the League and Trophy winners went as much as 84-51 clear en route to securing the second largest-ever margin of victory in a Playoff final, confirming their position as British basketball’s dominant force.

A few too many players failed to show up, perhaps awed by the occasion, Flournoy suggested.

“We never got into the game for the get-go,” said the New Yorker, who confirmed he will wait to make a decision on his own retirement. “We didn’t show up. Whether that’s down to us not playing right, or them forcing it, we didn’t do well.”

Game Stats

WBBL Playoff final: Suns shine brightest

Sevenoaks Suns went on a second half spree to defeat Nottingham Wildcats 70-61 in the WBBL Playoff Final.

Cat Carr, the game’s Most Valuable Player, notched a game-high 20 points and 14 rebounds but it was tough defence and strong shooting which separated the rivals as Len Busch’s side rallied from 12 down to end the campaign on a high.

“We executed as a team,” said Carr. “We knew what our game plan was. We might not have started the game well – we’re known for that – but in the second half, we really locked in and upped our defence.”

The league champions rolled as much as 30-18 clear early in the second quarter but their rivals withstood the barrage, immediately responding with eight unanswered points to ultimately trail 42-36 at half-time.

What was a decisive momentum shift would soon arrive.

Wildcats, losers in the 2015 and 2016 final, failed to add a single field goal in the entire third period, held to just two free throws as a 12-0 run, ignited by Ta’Yani Clark, propelled Sevenoaks 54-44 in front.

And with their captain Siobhan Prior carried off the court, Nottingham’s woes spiked and their chances faded as the Suns rolled to a Playoff and Trophy double.

Ashley Harris paced the Wildcats with 16 points but their failure to convert cost them dear.

“They were really able to respond to us in the second half,” the league MVP admitted. “We were struggling to get into situations we were comfortable with.”

Game Stats

Photo: Mansoor Ahmed

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