Basketball: Double blow as Riders slip off top

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The Independent Online

The BBL champions, Leicester Riders, lost top spot in the Northern Conference when Chester Jets closed the game with a 21-4 run over the last three-and-a-half minutes at Loughborough University on Saturday night.

Riders were then dealt another blow last night with an 84-75 defeat at Sheffield Sharks, who held Leicester to just 12 points in the third quarter to tie the scores on 59-59 before pulling away in the fourth. Jeff Monaco led Sharks' scorers with 19 points.

Chester were Leicester's quarter-final victims in last season's play-offs as the Riders upset the odds to win the championship final at Wembley, but on Saturday they exploited their opponents' lack of height after Leicester released the injured Tim Moore before the game.

Riders re-signed last season's championship MVP, Larry Johnson, to boost their outside scoring threat, but once John Thomas and James Hamilton hit three-pointers to spark the 21-4 run Chester cruised to victory.

In the BBL Trophy, London Towers punished a weary Birmingham Bullets 85-78 at Aston Villa to join Sheffield, Newcastle Eagles and Milton Keynes Lions in the last eight from Group B. The Lions clinched top spot by beating the Towers 73-69 last night.

Bullets, who played in Latvia and Lithunaia in midweek to clinch their place in the second round of the North European Basketball League, lost Ben Walker to an ankle injury at the end of the third quarter and Towers opened the fourth with a 12-2 burst to lead 71-60.