Leicester Riders, just 24 hours after their BBL Cup semi-final first leg victory over Plymouth Raiders, travelled home and continued their winning ways at the John Sandford Centre defeating the Manchester Giants 89-87.
Leicester came out firing to start the game with a long range effort from Drew Sullivan but that would be the only time in the first quarter that the Riders would. Manchester was effective in the paint, especially from James Jones who had six first quarter points, all from lay-ups off of the glass.
Tired legs were certainly playing their part, after such a close victory over the Raiders and it certainly showed with Manchester dominating the board against such a quality defensive side.
The Giants took a commanding eight point lead at the end of the first quarter and if it wasn’t for Sullivan’s timely three point shooting and a big performance from rookie guard Anthony Downing it could’ve been a lot worse for a Riders side who started the night in an unfamiliar fifth place in the BBL table.
The defensive frailties exhibited in the first quarter by Leicester were continuously exploited by Manchester over the second quarter in the paint, Rob Paternostro tried going with a big line-up introducing Barry Lamble and Harrison Gamble but it didn’t pay off.
Luckily for the home side however Manchester was starting to lack execution offensively. Yorrick Williams made two shots in row prompting Paternostro to move Couisnard to guard the former Rider and he failed to score again in the half.
The perimeter defence from Couisnard as Leicester started to claw back thanks to an eight point tear by Anthony Downing who really turned it on scoring 14 first half points.
Manchester started to falter allowing the champions to get themselves back in the game drawing level on 37-37 and ending the quarter with a vital lay-up by who else but Downing to send Leicester into the locker room ahead 46-45 at the half.
It was an indifferent display by Leicester but thanks to some poor second quarter shooting by Manchester they drew themselves back in to the game and punished the visitors for their lack of offensive efficiency.
Every Giant starter played at least 8 minutes in the entire first half and accounted for all 45 of their points without any help from the bench as opposed to a Riders side who had three players scoring off of the bench in the first half.
James Jones was certainly an MVP contender on the night, he continued to push his team and thans to some great lane driving and outside shooting he led a third quarter charge for the Manchester Giants.
The Riders were seemingly shell-shocked as they stuttered and whatever Paternostro said to the in the locker had an adverse effect on the home side, falling behind by as many as seven points coming towards the end of the third.
A crucial three pointer by Drew Sullivan kept the champions within touching distance heading into the final quarter however going into the fourth down by two, 62-60.
Giants started the quarter by pushing themselves out to a five point lead thanks to James Jones and a Yorrick Williams three.
Consecutive dunks by Rashad Hassan put Leicester ahead for the first time since the start of the third quarter with six minutes left at 69-68, it was a tense atmosphere in the John Sandford Centre as Leicester were looking to avoid consecutive home defeats, something they haven’t let happen since 2010.
Mistakes started to creep into the Giants game and poor defence under the rim allowed Hassan to make a reverse lay-up on his third attempt giving the Riders a four point lead.
Jay Couisnard was having a terrible night on the offensive end before unleashing back-to-back triples putting his team up five, thanks to an Aliu reply from deep Manchester kept it to within two with fewer than two minutes to play.
Manchester tied it up with 90 seconds remaining with yet another easy lay-up, Downing ran it back down the other end of the floor finding Rowe for the open baseline jumper.
It was a dramatic ending to a hard fought game. Drew Sullivan made a tough lay-up to restore the home sides two point lead resulting in a Giants timeout giving Jeff Jones a chance to try and lead one last battle cry for the underdogs looking for their biggest scalp of the season.
Aliu knocked down a crucial shot, posting up Anthony Rowe to tie the game at 87 a piece with just 30 seconds to play, Paternostro called a timeout as he tried to find a way to beat a spirited Manchester side.
Time was running out, Downing dribbled it out, looked for the pass and found no team-mate to pass to. Hesitating he took a shot from the top of the key which bounced off of the front of the rim, Anthony Rowe made a dramatic last ditch rebound effort squeezing in between two Manchester players back to Downing.
Downing fed the ball to Sullivan on the wing who ran in, shrugging off Aliu and make a step back jumper with just one second to play in the game, erupting the crowd and putting his side two points up.
With the last play of the game Aliu launched it up from 45 feet to no avail ensuring the Riders ran out winners, taking the game 89-87.
Next up for the Riders is their second leg of the BBL Cup semi-final against the Plymouth Raiders next Saturday at home.
For the Giants, a home tie against the Glasgow Rocks next Sunday, 5.30pm tip-off.