In a weekend which saw big attendances around the league, some sold out venues and pivotal games in both the BBL Trophy and Championship, it’s perhaps no surprise that the weekend will be remembered as one of the best in the long history of the Leicester Riders.
There was a full house waiting on Friday evening as the Riders travelled up to the home of their great rivals, Newcastle Eagles. But most of the fans went home disappointed as Neil Watson’s 21 points helped Leicester to a deserved 85-73 victory, a result which opens up the Championship title race.
Twenty-four hours later another sold out crowd was waiting as the Riders officially opened their brand new home at Leicester Community Sports Arena ahead of their Trophy clash with Surrey Scorchers, with the prize of a Semi-Final berth on offer.
Surrey’s KC Ross-Miller led all scorers with 23 points but there would no spoiling the opening night for the Riders, who prevailed 77-60 behind Drew Sullivan’s team-high 14 points.
“It feels really good to be back in front of the Leicester fans,” said Riders’ Neil Watson.
“They don’t have to travel far as we’re right down the road now.”
He added, “Playing Newcastle took a lot out of me and a lot out of this team, it’s a very physical game any time you play against a team like that.
“We were a little bit drained but we still came out and handled business.
“We knew Surrey were going to come in ready to play physical, ready to take us down and hand us a loss, but we ended up prevailing.”
Facing the Riders in the Trophy semi-final will be the Sheffield Sharks who extended their current win streak to ten games with a pair of victories over Plymouth Raiders.
On Friday, Antone Robinson led all scorers with an impressive double-double of 24 points and 14 rebounds as the Sharks took the Championship clash, 74-68.
When the two teams met again in Plymouth for Sunday’s Trophy game it was the turn of Mike Tuck to lead the Sharks to a comfortable 99-73 win. The Sheffield captain enjoyed a 28-point night as the Sharks returned to the semi-final for the first time in two years.
The other Semi-Final will see Worcester Wolves take on Newcastle after the Wolves eased past the Glasgow Rocks on Sunday, 85-66, Pavol Losonsky continuing his recent good form with a game-high 26 points and 10 rebounds.
In the Championship, Bristol Flyers moved up to eighth following their 88-67 victory over Leeds Force in front of another sold out venue. Cardell McFarland led the way with 23 points as the Flyers won for the first time in over a month, recording their biggest win of the season in the process.
After a three-week break, London Lions didn’t waste any time getting back to winning ways as they recorded a good 76-70 victory away at Cheshire Phoenix on Sunday, Alex Owumi pacing the side from the capital with 22 points.
There was some success for the Phoenix though as two nights earlier they recorded a great 97-87 win at Glasgow Rocks, with ex-Rock Danny Huffor torching his old team for 28 points.