BBL Cup quarter-final
London Lions 74-65 Cheshire Phoenix (25-14, 42-34, 63-47)
(Lions: Nelson/Hruban, 12; Koufos, 10; Zubcic, 9 — Phoenix: Evans, 14; Neighbour, 12; Jack/Teague, 9)
London Lions used a strong third quarter to advance to the BBL Cup semi-finals with a 74-65 win over the Cheshire Phoenix at the CopperBox Arena on Friday night.
After a promising end to the second quarter, Cheshire had high hopes in the third and even narrowed the gap to just two points until the Lions stepped up the intensity.
A 14-0 burst midway through the quarter was the key for London to unlocking the door to the BBL Cup last four.
Luke Nelson and Vojtech Hruban led the way for the Lions with 12 points each, with the former shooting 80% from the field. Kosta Koufos added 10.
Tomislav Zubcic, who got nine points, going 3/5 from the field, said: “We have an obligation to fulfil. We have to go all the way; we have to win these trophies because we are a team that wants to win.
“It was a tight game. We knew what we had to do. Unfortunately, we didn’t play the way we wanted, but a win is a win.”
Marcus Evans led all scorers with 14 for the Phoenix.
After giving up the first five points of the game, London recovered by hitting five three-pointers in the first six minutes of play, with Nelson hitting two of those.
As a result of the Lions’ accuracy, they took a 19-9 lead and looked comfortable, but the double-digit lead was erased thanks to former Lions forward Will Neighbour as Cheshire looked to trim the deficit.
However, the hosts restored their double-digit cushion and enjoyed a 25-14 lead after one, shooting 5/9 from deep while holding the visitors to just 27% from the field.
The offence was free-flowing, and then the Lions used the second to showcase their defensive strengths, as, on his BBL debut, Miye Oni let the Lions fans know his name with countless stops, continuously causing issues for the Phoenix.
Enjoying a lead that peaked at 12 points in the first half, London looked to put the game beyond reach. But Cheshire chipped away towards the end of the quarter.
The positive spell was highlighted by a thunderous slam from Maceo Jack off the feed from Jamell Anderson with 2:12 left in the period. London was pegged back further at half-time but relieved to hear the horn.
A strong period of play continued by the visitors to start the third as a jumper from Neighbour reduced the gap to 42-40 as the small but noisy Phoenix contingent played the perfect supporting cast.
But, with the deep line-up London have at its disposal, it was a question of when they would find their rhythm.
The answer came half-way through the third, as a 14-0 run, stretching five minutes, gave the Lions a 63-42 advantage.
Eventually, it was broken thanks to a triple from Lloyd Daniels, but the hosts took a 16-point lead going to the final ten.
The Lions looked comfortable. Maybe at times, too comfortable as an Evans three with 2:52 remaining, shrunk the gap to 71-65, giving the Phoenix hope.
But the experience and professionalism of the Lions shone through as they sealed the first spot in the BBL Cup semis.
The BBL Cup final takes place at the Utilita Arena in Birmingham on Sunday, 29 January. To secure your seat, get your tickets NOW.