Leicester Riders came back from the brink against the Esh Group Eagles Newcastle, 72-69, to retain the BBL Cup at the National Indoor Arena.
Coming back from a 12 point deficit with nine minutes to go in the game, MVP Andrew Sullivan stepped up and led the charge for the Riders on the way to claiming the first title of the season.
In front of a sell-out in Birmingham, and with less than ninety seconds on the clock, Jorge Calvo knocked down a huge three to put Leicester in front.
Despite the intense finish to the game, the first half struggled to make many headlines.
The Eagles took the early initiative in the opening period but with both sides struggling with their shooting was never set alight; the quarter finishing up 16-20 in favour of the North East side.
Mid-way through the second stanza, Newcastle stretched out to a nine-point advantage at one stage, and as the clock ticked down towards half-time, it began raining threes on court for both sides to add some excitement for what was to come after the break, as the Geordies took a 35-32 lead in to the locker room.
The tale of the tape at the halfway point was not pretty viewing for anyone involved.
Leicester shot just 31% from the field (23% from three-point range), and Newcastle fared not much better. The opportunities the Riders had from the free throw line were also putting them on the back foot, hitting just 5-from-15 on offer; on the whole, it was definitely a game of defence being played out for the 9,000-strong crowd.
Momentum kept swinging between the two sides throughout the third quarter, until another a moment of madness from Leicester after what had been some positive play in transition cutting the deficit to four, quickly saw a double-digit lead established for the Eagles, but eventually went into the final quarter 58-49 to the good.
Within a minute, Newcastle looked to have had one hand on the Cup after Charles Smith’s three to give them a game-high lead of 12 with nine minutes left on the clock.
However, the foul count began to rack up against Fab Flournoy’s men, and this half of basketball Leicester began to find their range from the charity strip, shooting 81% instead of the earlier 23%. And what a difference it made, as they began to eat further and further in to the Eagles’ lead.
One man in particular who made the difference was GB star Sullivan, but his team-mates followed his lead, and being 11 points adrift still with 4:17 left on the clock, Jorge Calvo completed the comeback with 1:21 as his three gave Leicester a lead of a single point.
With a shot-clock violation from Newcastle, it sent the Riders’ fans Sea of Red wild, and as Connor Washington drew a huge offensive charge that sent him crashing on the court with 9.5 seconds remaining. Jay Couisnard wrapped up the victory from the free-throw line, finishing the game off 72-69.
MVP Sullivan made a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds, along with two assists. Eagles’ Charles Smith led all scorers on 27 points, whilst Scott Martin also chipped in with a double-double of 12 points and 13 rebounds, but the afternoon, and the BBL Cup belong to Leicester Riders.
— Full quotes from Leicester Riders and Newcastle Eagles still to come —
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