Plymouth Raiders ground out a 92-80 win over London Lions in the first leg of their BBL Playoff semi-final.

All to play for in the second – and now decisive – meeting on Thursday where both teams will seek greater consistency in their quest to reach Sunday’s season finale.

Plymouth, short-handed on their roster but with all remaining hands effectively at the pump, looked the more likely to prevail when garnering a 48-34 lead early in the third period.

However London, still not clicking as they would wish, needed valuable input from reserves like Jules Dang-Akodo and Josh Ward-Hibbert to supplement their starters.

Rickey McGill, playing every minute and scoring a game-high 28 points, and Ashley Hamilton – with 23 points and 11 rebounds – were a two-headed monster as the Raiders held off a fourth quarter assault.

And McGill provided an exquisite finishing touch, converting from just inside half-court as the buzzer sounded to hammer home the advantage.

“We push each other,” said Hamilton. “He has a good game. He pushes me to play better. I push him to play better.  We work out together and we’re hard on each other. He’s fantastic.”

The Lions, with punches withheld as their club record run of 14 successive wins came to an end, will trust they can land more killer blows second time out.

Making only 8-33 from three-point range, they were paced by 16 points, ten rebounds and 12 assists from DeAndre Liggins but were, for once, matched defensively by their opponents.

Amid those numbers, his 3-14 shooting – along with a mere six points for Dirk Williams – underlined there are easy improvements to find.

Advantage Plymouth though, with only two teams in BBL Playoff history overturning a deficit of 12 points or more.

“We spoke over the past few days said if we wanted a chance to make this final, we had to win this first game and play a perfect game defensively and change some things up there,” Raiders head coach Paul James declared on Sky.

“The difference makers weren’t going to be Rickey McGill and Ashley Hamilton.

“It was going to be Elvisi Dusha, Will Neighbour and Ryan Beisty. If they could chip in, it was going to make a massive difference and everyone came to play.”


Leicester Riders will take a slim 77-76 lead over Newcastle Eagles into the second leg of their semi-final.

All evenly balanced headed into Thursday’s reunion at the Morningside Arena.

Not what was in prospect when the hosts led by as much as 38-18 in the second quarter following a devastating 16-1 run in the first that caught Newcastle flat and cold.

“We jumped on them early with a lot of energy,” said the newly-minted BBL Coach of the Year, Rob Paternostro.

Inevitably, a response came with Rahmon Fletcher the battering ram for the Tyneside outfit with a game-high 34 points.

The American drove the Eagles back into contention to trail 49-37 at half-time but even then, a gulf remained.

Down 16 at the end of the third, Newcastle were too reliant on trips to the foul line where they went 19/21 during the initial 30 minutes.

Yet the BBL Cup winners gathered momentum and found gains from elsewhere, starting the fourth with a 15-1 run to sit 69-67 in arrears with 5:26 left.

Riders captain Darien Nelson-Henry fouled out to alter the script still further. Yet Justin Gordon went 0/2 from the line to miss a chance to tie the contest, with Mo Walker then protecting Leicester’s lead with their first field goal of the quarter, over six minutes in.

On a roll though, Darius Defoe levelled for Newcastle and then Cortez Edwards gave Eagles the lead for the first time at 72-71 with 1:53 left in 4th.

Yet Leicester squeezed out a win, if not the margin that seemed possible, with Fletcher and Defoe forced to again close the gap again with two late scores.

“It took a team effort,” said William Lee, who had 18 points and 14 rebounds and a vital late offensive impact.

“We were up a lot of the first quarter and we let it slip away from us. That goes back to scouting these guys. I think we’ve played them seven times this season. So we know their sets and we know what they’re going to run.”

Now to find a vital edge, again. “We have to be focused next game. We just relaxed. They knew we relaxed.”

Game on, for Eagles, who showed spirit in their recovery, with a shift in emphasis where they asserted their defence. They badly needed Fletcher’s brilliance, with the former MVP 14-21 from the floor and his colleagues a combined 11-47.

“They got some good looks, we didn’t communicate in transition, and there was a little bit of a snowball effect” head coach Ian Macleod acknowledged.

“It didn’t actually change in the fourth. I think we held them to 13 points in the second. In the third, we held them to 19 and they scored on the buzzer. So we were getting stops. We started to combine stops with scores.”

Photo: Ahmedphotos

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