LEICESTER’S DEPTH, GUTS, DROWN NEWCASTLE

sullivan_trophy_o2 568Despite a MVP showing from Drew Sullivan, it wasn’t a vintage effort from Leicester Riders in the BBL Cup final – but the depth of their squad proved just enough to thwart Newcastle Eagles in Birmingham.

For almost 30 minutes, Rob Paternostro’s men were contained by their own shadows, their great rivals replicating what they do best: stifling defence, gritty persistence and a Finals-record seven blocks from Scott Martin.

The rookie centre was everywhere in the opening period, swatting away Jamell Anderson, Rashad Hassan and Anthony Rowe in quick succession. Need a rebound? He was there too.

Leicester, or so it seemed, were being out-played at their own game. Their first ten three-pointers were off-target. Jorge Calvo – attempting to fill the shoes vacated by the injured and absent Anthony Downing -picked up two quick fouls and headed to the bench.

Enter Conner Washington. Still unproven. Unused to the requirements of stepping up under such glaring spotlight.

“I knew I was going to come in at some point. I knew I had to keep a steady head,” he said “I just had to remember how to stay focused, how to come in for my team and do whatever was necessary. It doesn’t matter what they do to us. It doesn’t matter how many games we’ve got, we all know that we’re going to stick together and play hard.”

Down 37-32 at half-time, living on their wits, Leicester needed an extra spark. Back and forth the teams went. Washington hit a three which illustrated Paternostro’s confidence in his abilities.

“At half-time, he just gave us the stats,” the Riders guard revealed. “We knew shots weren’t dropping, we were making turnovers but we were still only five down.”

Newcastle made their run, even though Leicester took full advantage of going to the foul line 31 times, 23 more than their foes.

13 in front when the incorrigible Charles Smith drained a three early in the fourth, Leicester – as they have done so often under Paternostro – declined to buckle.

“I think we’re just too stupid to know when to quit,” Sullivan declared. “Every game, that’s what we do. We play every moment. We keep going. Every second. Every minute. Sometimes 40. Last weekend (against Sheffield) was 50. We go to the final whistle.”

The Great Britain captain was immense with an 11-point haul inside two minutes which turned the tide. “I’m upset I didn’t do it earlier in the game,” he reflected.

Others, however, did the little things that can made a critical difference.

Calvo buried what turned out to be the go-ahead three with one minute left. Then, the final nail, the diminutive Washington standing tall when Malik Cooke drove baseline in search of an Eagles advantage, taking a charge which was more a brick wall.

“Each player is going to put their body on the line and sacrifice themselves to get the win,” he said. “I can’t put it into words about that play. My emotions came out. I didn’t know what to think.

“But now this is finished, I’ve just got to focus on the next game at hand. The Cup’s ours. But there’s three trophies left.”

One team, one dream. An ongoing nightmare for the rest of the BBL.

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