Riders take quarter-final advantage but Phoenix stay positive

Leicester Riders began their quest to retain the BBL Playoff crown off to a quietly confident start on Friday at the Northgate Arena, securing a 76-88 lead heading into Sunday’s second leg at Loughborough University against Cheshire Phoenix.

A determined first quarter display, and a rampant Rashad Hassan, helped the visitors take charge in Chester, but the ‘Nix were able to hang in for the remainder of the game and have forty minutes left in which to eat in to the 12-point deficit.

The battle between the fourth and fifth placed sides from the Championship got off to a flying start, but Rob Paternostro’s men had the edge with the power at which they possessed in driving inside.

Devan Bailey returned from injury, but one cause of concern was the out-of-sorts Victor Moses, who came off at the end of the first quarter and was later taken to hospital as a precautionary measure after feeling ill whilst on court. It is believed though he will still play a part in Sunday’s second leg.

Riders, who whitewashed Cheshire in the Championship campaign, raced to a game-high lead of 22 midway through the second period thanks to a big three from Harrison Gamble, but the home side knew they had to make in roads before the half-time break came.

After a later time-out called by Paternostro, Phoenix made the best of it, and ended the half 40-53 levelling the quarter score in fine fashion with this buzzer-beater from Reggie Middleton.

This proved to be the catalyst for a comeback on the Northgate floor, and the rest of the ‘Nix side began to find aim after the break going on a 13-3 with a Dominique Coleman triple on the way to 55-58.

However, it was to be as close as Cheshire would come to turning things around as the Riders regrouped and made a 9-0 burst, seven from Anthony Downing, to push them back in to a double-digit lead.

Eventually, Leicester took a 58-72 lead into the final ten minutes, although the fight in the Phoenix remained, knowing every point in these two legs matters, and ended the game with a decent spell to cut the gap to just twelve points in a tie that could have gone either way had the momentum stayed with one side.

Hassan lead all scorers with 26 points on the night, with the Riders’ next top scorer being Jay Couisnard on 21. Both also claimed double-doubles with ten and 12 rebounds respectively.

For Cheshire, Reggie Middleton shone brightest with 25 points, but Donatas Visockis left it all out on court with 16 points and 17 rebounds.

Speaking after his side’s first leg win, head coach of the Leicester Riders, Rob Paternostro, was happy with how his side performed at both ends of the court: “I thought my guys did well today. We played good on offense, but defense we did really well too. We’ve been in a few of these before and we understand completely that it’s an eighty minute game and I said to the guys in the locker room at half-time ‘They’re going to make a run back’ so we need to just keep going.

This team [Cheshire Phoenix] is a dangerous team; the crazier the game gets, the better it gets for them. We have to go for the whole forty minutes on Sunday, just like we knew we’d have to go for the whole eighty minutes in total. They have players were you know that they are just never out of the game.

“Our key was to not get hung up on the score. Sometimes in these first legs you can get really hung up on the score, even at the end saying ‘Oh I wish we won by more’ but we did a good job,”¬†Paternostro went on to say.

Now Leicester return with home court advantage and Paternostro is relishing that prospect to make it in to the semi-finals: “Our home crowd in the playoffs has been phenomenal over the last few years so we’re now really looking forward to Sunday.”

Coach Lavery was disappointed with how his Phoenix side began the game, but is no doubt that those same players can flip the result on its head come the final buzzer on Sunday: “I think they won tonight in the first quarter, but we came out slow and sluggish. We went thirty minutes as well without Vic [Moses] – it’s only half-time and if we get a couple of quick buckets in a row, we could be looking at a 0-0 game and everything to play for again.

“We have to play hard for another forty minutes. We didn’t shoot the ball well, we had some good looks but we just didn’t knock them down. We lost the boards, had nine turnovers; but heir efficiency was something else. It was good to have a full working unit back with Devan [Bailey], but obviously that didn’t last for long losing Vic. We’ll regroup, have a light practice Saturday, and we’ll go Sunday.

Winning weekend for Cheshire Phoenix over Lions

Cheshire Phoenix made it back-to-back wins over the London Lions with a 103-97 victory at the Northgate Arena on Sunday night.

Picking up home and away wins meant Phoenix claimed a vital head-to-head in the fight for fifth spot as the playoffs loom.

In the first quarter, Donatas Visockis led the charge for the home side, but Vince Macaulay’s Lions arrived in Chester aggressive and determined to restrict the efforts of Reggie Middleton, with initial success as the point guard racked up three fouls early in the period.

Former Phoenix favourite, Chez Marks and Adrien Sturt brought the scores to just a single point close to the end of play, but Victor Moses jammed it home for a slender 26-23 advantage.

However, the Lions came out with vigour in the second, and on a 14-3 run over the first five minutes the momentum shift was clear to see.

Out-rebounding the Nix more than 2 to 1, and pulling down 15 offensive boards, with 20 second chance points to boot, a 12 point game-high lead for the visitors was capped off with a vintage three from Marks, although Devan Bailey reduced that back to eight before half-time at 40-48.

What was to ensue after the break, was possibly one of the most clinical quarters this season at home for the ‘Nix.

Marks restored a ten point lead, but it was Middleton who turned the intensity up a notch, his foot speed increasing, more power driving inside, leaving Lions trailing in his wake – doubling his points tally for the whole first half in just three minutes.

Such was the frustration, Macaulay’s anger at the sidelines resulted in a technical foul, allowing Dominique Coleman to drain both free throws and close the gap to just a point at 55-56.

Bailey retook the lead for the home side moments later, but was to leave the game and take a trip to hospital with what is believed to be a dislocated shoulder.

The onslaught from Cheshire continued though, Coleman delivering from deep after Kramer Knutson had tied the scores. The crowd at the Northgate were in fine voice soon after as a fast break saw Coleman only just keep the ball in play, Creppy coming out with the fumbled ball and fouled on the way to the basket.

With foul trouble for London, John Lavery’s men turned the screw, and by the end of the third, a 20 point swing had played out in less than ten minutes, 80-70.

A 10-2 burst from Lions, with eight points from Sturt, in the final period brought the scores back to one possession briefly, but the ‘Nix held on and jus as the previous stanza, played the game out from the line as Lions desperately tried to haul the home side back.

However, 103-97 was how proceedings finished and Phoenix now with the advantage for fifth place, and what is increasingly looking at being a quarter-final clash with Leicester Riders in the post-season.

Reggie Middleton top-scored for Cheshire with 29 points, with Rod Brown taking 24 points for the visitors. There were also double-doubles for Visockis (17pts/10rbs) and Mike Martin (12pts/11rbs).

Coach Lavery felt he needed to deliver a bold message to his charges at the break after a dismal performance to end the half, and it certainly worked out for the Phoenix: “We started well, we didn’t really have a great second quarter, they came out hard and strong which we expected and obviously they take a half time lead.

“We talked about what we needed to do and where we needed to be – the focus was on being mentally strong and wanting it more than they did. In that third quarter, we came out strong, it was pleasing that we played for the whole ten minutes of that quarter; play for those ten, go hard, regroup, and go again – we did a fantastic job with that.

“We expected a hard game, there was a lot to play for, whoever won took the head-to-head, which is probably going to decide where we finish in the league. We knew they were going to come out hard after we turned them over on Friday at their place.”

“Creppy” decision for Cheshire with match ban

Michael Creppy’s last minute suspension ahead of tonight’s knife-edge BBL Trophy semi-final clash with the Glasgow Rocks has left Cheshire Phoenix frustrated, angry and disappointed, and their week’s preparations in tatters.

On February 2nd, an incident between Glasgow Rocks’ Gareth Murray and Phoenix’s Michael Creppy in a BBL Championship encounter was reported to the BBL Disciplinary Committee the following day by the Glasgow Rocks.

It was made known that such a report had been made through internet sources, and footage of the incident available on YouTube*, however as UKAmericanSportsFans.com understands, the Cheshire franchise were never formally informed of the Disciplinary Committee’s decision that there was no case to answer to in regards to the incident – nor were they formally informed of a counter-appeal from Glasgow Rocks.

Glasgow Rocks were successful in that appeal and now Creppy faces an immediate one-game suspension, handed down with just 24 hours notice to come in to effect for tonight’s crucial BBL Trophy semi-final second leg back at the Emirates Arena.

It is believed that Cheshire Phoenix are accepting of the decision to suspend Creppy for one game, however feel aggrieved at both the lack of urgency from when the incident occurred nearly six weeks ago, and the decision to suspend him for this particular Trophy game, rather than for a Championship game, during which the incident occurred.

Supporters and volunteers are also disappointed at the loss of Creppy for tonight’s clash.

“The incident happened during a league game, therefore if the BBL are insistent on implementing a suspension, it should be served during a Championship game; not for the second leg of the semi-final of the Trophy competition!” says Cheshire Phoenix volunteer Debbie Donaldson, who has followed the Phoenix to Glasgow for tonight’s game.

“We were only given 24 hours notice of the ban ahead of the game, which is disgusting and quite shocking,” Donaldson continued. “The players and coaching staff have all been working hard in preparation for the biggest game to date in the short history of the Phoenix which has been totally undermined by this last minute announcement.”

Despite the decision, and with Reggie Middleton still doubtful for the game at the Emirates, Cheshire Phoenix will be calling upon all their resources and support during tonight’s live BBL TV game.

*Footage of said incident is now believed to have been removed from YouTube – 15/03/2014

Video: BJ Holmes’ game winner from Tuesday night

If you haven’t witnessed it yet, then get ready, because here is Sheffield Sharks’ BJ Holmes doing what he does best.

Stepping up when it mattered most, dialling in from deep, and dropping it on Newcastle Eagles in Tuesday night’s BBL Championship clash which gave the home side a 94-92 win.

Big shout to James Brough on this one posting it up on Facebook – enjoy!

Paternostro steps up to the plate as Leicester sports collide

We know that plenty of the UK American Sports community show their support for other US sports, so when this gem popped up on Instagram this afternoon from the Leicester Riders – it definitely made our day!

With a weekend free from fixtures, it’s given Riders’ head coach Rob Paternostro time to get some batting practice in, and it seems like he could definitely find a spot in the Leicester Blue Sox lineup for the upcoming BBF season!

We here at UKAmericanSportsFans.com would love to see all our US sports based here in the UK coming together, so where do we think the next combination will come from? London Lions and London Warriors? Nottingham Caesars trading places with Nottingham Panthers?