Leicester Riders starting five: Kimbal Mackenzie, Miryne Thomas, TJ Lall, Mo Walker, Jaren Holmes
Caledonia Gladiators starting five: Ian Dubose, Princeton Onwas, Patrick Whelan, Clifton Moore Jr., Lukas Palyza.
Looking to make an impression, the Riders got off to a hot start, leading 7-2 in the early going and holding Caledonia to 2/7 from the field in the first three minutes.
It was a slow start from the visitors, but they hit their rhythm rapidly as they established a 16-11 lead with 4:30 left in the first, thanks to a tough lay-up in traffic from Princeton Onwas and a dunk from Ian Dubose.
However, that was followed by an 8-0 run from the Riders to retain the lead briefly, but Caledonia hit back to take a 25-18 lead after one, thanks to eight fast break points, taking advantage of four very sloppy Leicester turnovers.
The introduction of Riders debutant Teddy Allen was an instant hit for the home fans as in just under five minutes, he poured in seven quick points on 3/4 shooting.
But the Gladiators were consistent on the offensive end, leading by as many as nine points thanks to a lay-up by Trent Buttrick, and they withstood late pressure from the hosts – in particular Allen, who had 14 first-half points – to lead 51-47.
Caledonia’s slender lead began to grow in the early stages of the third as Leicester were unable to execute with the Gladiators taking full advantage.
A three by Lukas Palyza gave his side a 60-49 cushion as part of a 9-2 spurt with Clifton Moore Jr. hitting eight points in just over four minutes, as the visitors were comfortable.
But with the history and pedigree of winning behind them, Leicester are a team that can never be counted out and towards the end of the quarter, they made their move.
A four-point play from Allen started a mini 6-0 run to trim the deficit and the hosts ended the third strongly as their counterparts – with the exception of Fraser Malcolm – couldn’t seem to emulate their earlier form.
Seemingly riding their luck at times, the Riders only trailed 73-69 heading into the last ten and it was here where they started to shine. Almost like the Leicester Riders of old, perhaps.
Miryne Thomas tied the game at 81-81 with a triple to unglue the roof off the Morningside Arena and from there they had Caledonia right where they wanted them.
And in the final minute, the hosts rode clear for a much needed victory.