On Friday 25th November, the Leicester Riders had to come from behind to win in a dominating fashion as they overcame the Bristol Flyers in the fourth quarter to win 79-65 after a performance to remember at the Leicester Arena.
The Leicester Riders went into the game with a record of 9 wins and 1 loss in the British Basketball League Championship, their only loss coming against the Glasgow Rocks the week before. The Bristol Flyers went into the game with 9 defeats and a solitary win. The reverse fixture ended 60-85 in favour of the Leicester Riders and both teams were looking to recover and return to winning ways going into the 19:45 tip off in Leicester.
To start the game, the Flyers gained immediate possession of the ball as Brandon Clark set the tone for his defensive capabilities and determination. Riders Forward Pierre Hampton started off the scoring for the Riders with an assist by Clark starting the counter attack. Another Riders Forward, Taylor King, was showing true grit and determination in possession as he won a foul for contact and got two free throws for his trouble, which he swiftly converted, making it 4-1 early on after only one free throw was converted by the Flyers.
However, this was the turning point in the quarter as the Flyers mounted an impressive scoring streak, scoring 12 points and conceding 1 to a free throw by Guard Tyler Bernardini, leaving the score 5-13. This streak included a three-point shot, a shot and additional converted free throw due to a foul and a counter-attack where Clark was unable to defend the 2-on-1 situation.
A timeout seemed to bring the best out of the Riders as Forward Drew Sullivan managed his first basket of the game after some fluid ball movement, however, this didn’t stop the Flyers responding with another three-point basket. The end of the first quarter couldn’t come soon enough for the Riders as the Flyers scored a basket either side of a Shane Walker attack. Brandon Clark tried to take an ambitious shot before the buzzer, however, it bounced off the backboard and left the score at 9-20 to the Flyers at the end of the first quarter.
The Riders started the second quarter with a miss as Bernardini missed a three-pointer and an incredible block by the Riders stopped a Flyers counter attack. To add salt to the wounds for the Flyers, the block gave Sullivan a brilliant platform to score from and narrow the gap. The Riders kept on the offense and were able to close the gap through Clark as he led the attack from the back, scoring two 3 pointers in succession, putting the Flyers on the back foot and forcing them into a timeout just to try and stop the momentum of the rampant Riders offense.
The Riders came back from the timeout with a vengeance as Taylor King immediately took a rather unchallenged shot from long range to bring the game level. Hampton went through a dry spell in the game as he was unable to convert shots after some quick passing around the area, yet he was still hugely influential to help the Riders get a substantial lead through the fantastic defence. Bernardini and Thomson were both able to score in quick succession from just beyond the 3-point line, making it 28-22 to the home team. Drew Sullivan came on for the remainder of the quarter and although his experience and dominating attacking prowess was on display, the Flyers brought the game back as they put in a three-pointer, a two-point jump shot followed by a converted free throw and two more jump shots to end the half 30-32 up after the Riders missed a shot to go level with only 6.2 seconds left on the clock.
A tense moment left Leicester fearing they were going in 30-35 down after a Flyers Forward shot from over the half way line and scored as the buzzer went, however, it was decided that the basket would not count as he let go after the buzzer, leaving the score being 30-32 at the end of the second quarter.
The Flyers start the second half nearly running the shot clock out and panicking a shot, however after the Riders were unable to convert, the Flyers came back to score the first points of the quarter. Pierre Hampton took a shot from out wide to score a fantastic three-pointer, leaving it 33-34 within a minute of the third quarter starting. The Flyers were able to win two free throws but only scored the first one. This didn’t stop the Riders as Forward Andy Thomson to put in another three from a near identical place as Hampton and even then, the Riders were only leading by a point 36-35. Although King was struggling on offense in the third quarter, he was on top of his defensive game, which helped limit the Flyers offense. But they were able to get three points back, but Thomson once again shoots another three in response. At this stage in the game, he shot 3 out of 3 three-pointers he had taken, an impressive feat in any game.
The Flyers went on to score 16 points and concede only 4 as they went on a phase of play where they were much more clinical than the Riders as the Flyers moved the ball around to open up the Riders defence. A number of players were struggling on offense and only Brandon Clark, whose drive through the centre of the defence allowed him to score, and Tyler Bernardini was able to win three free throws after being fouled whilst shooting outside the two-point area. He was able to convert two after missing the first. The players went through another spell of being unable to convert any opportunities, yet this eventually ended towards the final couple of minutes of the quarter. Guard Eric Robertson provided a step in the right direction, scoring 5 free throws in a row after being unplayable. Although the Flyers scored a basket and a free throw in a separate incident in the final few seconds of the quarter, they still lead by 9 as they entered the final quarter 48-57 up.
The Leicester Riders needed an incredible quarter to be able to win the game against Bristol, who were playing as if they were leading the table. However, Leicester showed their normal dominant style that has led them to second in the table as on their first offensive move, they were able to get two points from two free throws. Leicester looked as if they were starting to panic about the score as they shot from long much more frequently, with their conversion percentage going down. Sullivan was able to make a basket and the Flyers were unable to get into a rhythm but they still led 52-61. Drew Sullivan knew how to get the crowd going as he received a cross-court pass and held off the oncoming defenders to slam the ball in, to narrow the gap to 54-61. The Flyers called a timeout as the stadium burst into life
With the crowd now excited from the slam, the Riders took confidence and a dominant stance on the game as they restarted. Clark stole the ball off the Flyers and scored, immediately after Sullivan also took the ball off them and was fouled on the way up to the basket, resulting in two free throws, which he converted the second one and narrowed the gap even further to just 57-61. He was then involved again as he did enough to make the Flyers Forward miss and Clark was able to go down the other end and score easily to narrow the gap to just 2 points. The Flyers obviously were struggling to break down Leicester and wasted all their shot clock time and immediately King was able to make an easy lay-up from under the basket and Thomson stole the ball and did the same. Within 30 seconds, the Riders had gone from being 59-61 down without possession to 63-61 and firmly in charge.
Bernardini intercepted the ball nearly immediately and passed it to Clark, who really pushed the team forward and gifted it to Clark who passed it to Robertson, who was fouled as he went to shoot and was given two free throws, which he converted. Robertson was nearly flawless in offense all night and Clark got even better as immediately after the Flyers narrowed the gap back to 65-63, Clark missed but the rebound meant that Thomson could tip in the basket and a free throw as well. Clark then made them pay with a basket and Bristol looked flustered and overwhelmed as they called another timeout with the score 70-63. Coming back into the game, Bernardini put in a basket after the Riders won possession from a Thomson block. Clark gifted a basket to King through a fake shot, leaving King wide open to score as well as winning a free throw, which was converted.
The Flyers won three free throws and scored two of them to make the score 75-65 to the Riders approaching the final minute. The Riders kept stealing the ball back as Clark and King dominated their opponents, leaving Bernardini open to shoot and win free throws, which he scored. The Flyers shot three-pointers to try and get points back but kept on missing and with just seconds left on the buzzer, Bristol Flyers’ Vigor was ejected from the game due to receiving his 5th personal foul, which gave Bernardini to shoot two free throws. The first was missed and the second was balanced on the rim and tipped in by the opposition, leaving the score 79-65 as the Clark retrieved the ball and held it until the final buzzer.
An incredible result leaves Leicester with 10 wins and 1 loss for the season, with their only defeat in the league against the Glasgow Rocks. Whilst their opponents, the Bristol Flyers, fell to their 10th defeat of the season. There was no defined point scorer for the Riders as the top scorer was Brandon Clark, who played all 40 minutes and scored a total of 16 points., whilst both Bernardini and Thomson scored 14 points each. In contrast, the Flyer’s Ali was by far the top scorer with 23 points and 4 assists. The Riders were very much a team unit with both offensive and defensive stats being evenly spread throughout the team, whilst the Flyers relied on key players to make the points and save them defensively. The Riders showed that whilst they are incredible individual athletes, they are even more effective as a cohesive unit.