BBL: Riders book Cup Final place as first 2022 league games commence

Leicester Riders booked their place in January’s BBL Cup final after a thrilling contest with London Lions.

After an incredible first leg that saw an inspired London comeback, there were only three points between the two sides going into Thursday’s showdown, and the Riders started the game the brighter of the two sides. Led by Geno Crandall’s 12 assists they took a commanding lead into halftime after outscoring the Lions 26-14 in the second period last Thursday.

After London’s first-leg comeback, it looked as though lightning may strike twice for the Lions as they flew out the blocks in the second half, and after seven personal points from Isaiah Reece early in the third managed to close the gap to single digits.

London managed to close the gap to four points on the night however there was not enough time on the clock as Leicester held on to set up a tantalising final in Birmingham.

Crandall finished with 16 assists to go with six points whilst Reese led all scorers for the Lions with 20 points and seven assists.

Giants walking tall

The Riders will face Manchester Giants in the Cup final in January’s showcase, and the Giants enjoyed a big win over Cheshire Phoenix to secure the regular season sweep in the North West Derby earlier in the afternoon.

Meanwhile on the same night the Giants arrived at their final game of 2021 having won four out of their last five, and after an 8-0 run to start Thursday’s game laid an early marker to continue that form. Cheshire fought back however before a strong end to the half from the Giants gave them a slender lead at halftime.

In the early stages of the second half both sides struggled to find their footing offensively, before a pair of triples from Dan Clark early in the fourth started to give Manchester some breathing room. Namon Wright’s and-one effort brought the score to within a point with a minute to go, before Tyrik Armstrong’s drive to the basket all but secured the win for the Giants.

Clark led all scorers with 22 points, whilst Armstrong added 16 points and nine assists in another impressive showing from the American guard.

Scorchers are hot

Surrey Scorchers opened 2022 in spectacular fashion, picking up their first BBL Championship win of the campaign by beating London Lions 78-77 in a shootout in front of a sold-out Surrey Sports Park on Saturday afternoon. It sees them improve to a remarkable 11-1 record in their customary New Year’s Day home game.

Scorchers came into this one on a run of seven straight defeats, with no win since the end of October and three previous losses to the Lions. But there were no signs of that as they led by double-figures early on when Caylin Raftopoulos scored eight points in an 18-8 start; and despite a Lions fightback and six lead changes, they re-established that margin just before the half as they held their visitors scoreless for four minutes and hit a 14-2 surge for a 41-31 lead in a run that was started by a Jules Dang Akodo buzzer-beating triple and ended with another from Raftopoulos.

The hosts held their lead throughout the third period as Raftopoulos connected on a trio of corner threes from the same spot, and took it into the fourth when Martelle McLemore went coast-to-coast to sensationally beat the buzzer.

But the game went down to the wire as Lions hit eight in a row to open the decisive period, Cugini scoring five of those among his 23 points to snatch the lead at 69-67 on his fifth triple.

In a frantic finish there were then six late lead changes as BBL veterans Tayo Ogedengbe and Andre Lockhart twice exchanged baskets, and it was Ogedengbe who followed a huge dunk with another score inside the final minute to seal it as Lions failed to score with six seconds remaining following a scrap on the floor.

Ogedengbe came up clutch and finished on 19 points, bettered only by Raftopoulos’s 20 on 6-8 (75%) three-point shooting. Dang Akodo, against his former club, came close to a triple-double with 12 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds.

Leicester Riders also picked up a straight forward win against the B. Braun Sheffield Sharks and Manchester Giants edged out Newcastle Eagles in an entertaining Sunday evening of BBL action.

In the evening’s early tip-off, Sharks got off to a good start against a talented Riders side. The home side only trailed by four after a competitive first quarter that saw them go 24-20 behind.

Riders, however, showed why they sit at the top of the BBL Championship in the second quarter. They scored a massive 33 points and limited their opponents to just 14 in the period to open up a sizable 57-34 lead at the halftime break.

The away side added a more modest 20 points in the third and then added a further 23 points in the last to hit triple digits and wrap up a comprehensive 100-62 victory.

Darien Nelson-Henry led the scoring charts in a double-double performance of 19 points and 11 rebounds for Riders whilst Jordan Ratinho was Sharks best player with a game-high 21 points.

The National Basketball Performance Centre was the venue for the evening’s late tip-off with Manchester Giants hosting Newcastle Eagles.

Much like the day’s first match, the sides could barely be separated after an exciting opening quarter. It was Eagles that held a slender 23-20 lead after the first.

Giants responded well in the second, outscoring their opponents 20-17 in the period to tie the game 40-40 at the halftime break and set up a nail-biting second half.

Giants were able to open up a slender four-point lead going into the final quarter as they scored 27 points and limited Eagles to 23 to lead 67-63.

Eagles fought until the very end and reduced the deficit to just two points late into the final quarter, but Giants held on to secure a six-point win.

Dan Clark finished with a game-high 19 points and 11 rebounds in a superb double-double performance for Giants. For Eagles, Wesley Person Jr contributed a team-high 17 points.