Leicester Riders claimed their first piece of silverware in more than a decade after an 85-80 victory over the Newcastle Eagles in a thrilling BBL Cup Final.
Jay Couisnard earned the MVP award with a 19 point haul which included a pivotal spell in the third quarter when the rookie drained a trio of triples.
Leicester led for the majority of the game and withheld a late fightback from the Eagles as Fab Flournoy’s men never gave up on the defence of their title. Joe Chapman led all scorers with 27 points but was unable to inspire his side to a fifth consecutive trophy in the BBL.
Darius Defoe and Anthony Rowe opened the scoring for their respective sides and the first score from beyond the arc came from Drew Sullivan which gave the Riders their first lead at 7-6. Another soon followed from the GB international before five points in quick succession from Jamell Anderson helped Leicester into a 20-17 lead at the end of the first.
Chapman fired the Eagles back in front from downtown but Rob Paternostro’s men battled back and dominated the next few minutes to open up a double-digit advantage. The defending champions could only narrowly cut the deficit whilst keeping their opponents scoreless in the final 1:51 of the half where the score was 45-36 in favour of the Riders.
Newcastle were able to close the gap when play resumed and whittled their arrears to just four points through the combination of Chapman and Damon Huffman. Couisnard responded with eleven of his side’s next thirteen points; finding the net from long range on three occasions as Leicester now led 65-51 with one quarter remaining.
Charles Smith and Chapman stepped up at the start of the fourth but their triples were countered by baskets from Pavol Losonsky, Jorge Calvo and Rowe to keep the Eagles at bay. Anderson replied to another three from Chapman with his second of the night which helped the youngster towards 15 points on a perfect 100% shooting display from the field.
With less than five minutes remaining the Riders’ lead was still in double figures before Newcastle launched their fightback. Flournoy’s basket capped a 10-0 spell to tie the game at 78; setting up a tense finale with 90 seconds still to go.
The player-coach then put his side into the lead with another two points, after Rowe could only make 1 out of 2 from the line, before Zaire Taylor struck a vital blow with a crucial three pointer as the game headed into the final minute.
Sullivan came up with a huge block on Smith and while Chapman and Huffman couldn’t connect from 3-point range, Rowe and Calvo sealed Leicester’s victory from the line for their FIRST trophy since winning the double in 2001.
While the Riders may have struggled from the charity stripe, a 50% success rate from long range is an impressive statistic especially considering their opponents’ struggles as Newcastle only found the net on seven occasions from 35 attempts which contributed to a sub-par 37% field goal percentage.
The rivalry between the two sides looks set to continue in 2013 with both teams level at the top of the Championship standings as well as being in the last eight of the BBL Trophy.
The Cup final was preceeded by an international friendly between England and Ireland which finished 83-80 to the men in green. The kickz.co.uk BBL Slam Dunk contest was won by Ukranian Dmitry Krivenko.