Leicester Riders have struggled slightly in their last five BBL Championship games, uncharacteristically dropping three of five, but they got back into rhythm with a 92-89 win over the Plymouth City Patriots at Morningside Arena.
The home team needed big games from Marc Loving and Kimbal Mackenzie – with 24 and 23 points, respectively – to see off a valiant effort from Rashad Hassan and Otas Iyekekpolor.
The Plymouth City Patriots hoped to capitalise on Leicester’s rough patch and they started out well.
Jules Dang Akodo scored five points straight for Plymouth, and his teammate James Hawthorne scored his fourth point at the line to take an 11-4 lead early.
But this is when the Riders turned the heat up from distance.
Carrington Love, Patrick Whelan and Marc Loving scored consecutive threes to take a seven point deficit into a two point lead.
Zach Jackson kept the pressure on the Patriots when the Riders swingman scored five straight, including a tough layup after stealing the ball, and getting a foul shot to drop.
As the first quarter came to a close, Patrick Lanipekun and Ryan Bissainthe closed the gap for Plymouth beforeJubril Adekoya hit a three for Leicester to make it an eight-point lead for the home team.
The Riders closed the first quarter with a three, and opened the second with the same – they worked the ball around and found Kimbal Mackenzie in the corner.
For the Patriots, Rashad Hassan kept finding ways to the rim. His pick-and-roll with Hawthorne and Isa Brandon created points, as did solo work in the post.
Mackenzie was either setting up teammates or shooting to keep his side ahead by up to 14 at one stage, but Hassan came right back and never let the gap get too big for Plymouth.
The Riders attempted to go two-for-one in the last 30-plus seconds, but the Patriots got a stop then passed the ball well in transition – Brandon found Hassan in the dunker’s spot for an easy layup.
Leicester still had a chance to score, but Whelan couldn’t hit the three and Plymouth went into the half with momentum, and just a seven-point deficit.
Plymouth’s zone defence to open the third quarter worked well. On offence, a pair of reliable free throws from Elvisi Dusha, plus a transition layup for Brandon, cut the gap to four.
Loving led a 7-2 run to push Leicester’s lead back up to double figures but Hassan made sure to keep his team within reach on a typical offensive rebound-putback sequence.
Just as the quarter came to a close, the relative newcomers to Plymouth showed their heart.
Otas Iyekekpolor checked in and immediately grabbed a defensive rebound. Up the other end Bissainthe found his teammate on the attack, who was fouled and hit both free throws.
Bissainthe then stole the ball and got a layup to go. And it was Lanipekun who made a big three to pull within four.
Leicester’s Mackenzie was fouled on the three-point line before the buzzer went, and he hit all three, but Plymouth had closed the gap to five before that.
Iyekekpolor and Lanipekun kept this going to start the fourth and within 90 seconds the Patriots trailed by just three.
It was a competitive back and forth down the stretch as Iyekekpolor and Loving traded the lead with threes.
Hassan got a two to cut the deficit to one, and got a great block to give Plymouth a chance to go for the win.
But a clutch defensive stop from Adekoya saw him get a hand in Dang Akodo’s pocket to take away the ball.
This put Leicester on the line, where Mackenzie sunk both, so Plymouth needed a three, which was snuffed out by good Riders defence.
It’s the start of a busy week for both teams, as they are in action on Friday, then will have a rematch on Sunday at Plymouth Pavillions.