Riders finally broke their 30 year duck in major competitions but it took
a thrilling finish for them to secure the long-awaited silverware.
Tied at 81-81 in
the final minute of an enthralling NTL National Cup Final against Leopards,
the Riders took a field goal from MVP Ralph Blalock and a free throw from
city-native Karl Brown to secure an 84-82 victory at the end of a classic
at Sheffield Arena.
"Cinderella no more,
champions today," exclaimed a jubilant Billy Mims, who lived up to the
promise he had made when he took over at Leicester 16 months ago, ironically
after his sacking at Leopards.
In a match which
ebbed and flowed from start to finish, Leicester started brightest, racking
up 14 unanswered points in the first quarter to lead 24-11, the Southern
Conference outfit taking an age to find their range.
However they soon
came back and inspired by Rod Brown and Rashod Johnson, edged in front
four minutes into the second period.
Mims' men, unused
to holding a lead of late, temporarily lost their spark as Leopards ran
up a 1-10 burst before the interval, only Ralph Blalock's late three pointer
reducing the gap to four at half-time.
With both Jason Kimbrough
and Rico Alderson used sparingly due to foul trouble, Leopards had to be
Donewald, whose father
sat proudly at his side on the bench, visibly tried to curtail the nerves
among his squad, several of whom remain from 2000's runners-up selection.
But Leicester kept up the pressure, Larry Johnson ably running their game-plan
against his old club, a 9-0 burst late in the third stanza putting the
Midlands outfit ahead 67-62.
Kimbrough hit the
final four of the quarter and when the largely anonymous Maurice Robinson
fired in with 8:40 left it was even at 70-70.
a 7-0 Leicester burst but to their credit, the Brentwood boys refused to
give in, nine unanswered points putting them ahead 78-81.
But Larry Johnson
popped up with a trey in the corner to level again and with Blalock - who
had a game-best 26 points - and Karl Brown's late efforts, a single free
throw from Rod Brown which took his team-high tally to 21 was not enough
as the clock ran out, leaving Mims dancing his familiar jig of joy at centre
Quarter by Quarter