The London Lions defeat the Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles in opening British Basketball League Trophy clash.
London Lions starting five: Gabriel Olaseni, Jordan Taylor, Conor Morgan, Luke Nelson, Ciaran Sandy
Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles starting five: Rickey McGill, Larry Austin Jr., Jordan Johnson, Darius Defoe, Tajh Green
The London Lions needed no extra motivation heading into the opening fixture of this season’s British Basketball League Trophy; it was the only honour they missed out on during last year’s otherwise dominant campaign.
With some key names on their injury list – including Sam Dekker & Matt Morgan – the Lions had a test on their hands for their first group game, especially given the opposition.
The Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles are the most decorated team in the history of the competition. They have recorded seven Trophy Final wins and Head Coach Marc Steutel will surely be determined to add to that.
Newcastle travelled to the Copper Box Arena in fine form, following two consecutive league wins, but also had their own injury woes, with Devin Whitfield, Scott Spencer, Josh Ward-Hibbert and Will Neighbour sidelined on the night.
Nobody is more familiar with what it takes to win this competition than Eagles and League legend Darius Defoe, who has contributed to all seven of his team’s Trophy Final victories and has won more Trophy titles than every other club except his own.
Newcastle started off in appropriate fashion, by feeding it to the veteran in the post and he put the first points of the contest on the board.
The teams then went blow-for-blow in the opening period. Gabriel Olaseni led the way for London, combining a series of turn-around jumpers with aggressive drives and contributing all seven of London’s opening points.
Every time the Lions made a run, though, the Eagles answered right back. They scored by committee, while moving the ball effectively and prioritising interior play and as the opening quarter drew to a close, the score was tied at 22-22.
— British Basketball League (@britishbasketm) January 4, 2024
A lay-up from Luke Nelson and a trip to the line for Conor Morgan edged Petar Božić’s side ahead by seven points early in the second period, but Newcastle responded with a run of their own.
Jordan Johnson offered a persistent threat from beyond the arc, while Larry Austin Jr impacted the game in just about every way possible, making plays on both ends and pulling down boards on the offensive and defensive glass throghout the contest.
Tajh Green converted a pair of shots from the charity stripe and just like that, the Eagles had the advantage, heading into the break with a 48-45 lead.
London reemerged with a new game plan after the halftime interval, making adjustments to capitalise on the returning Donte Grantham. The former Los Angeles Clipper came off the bench to expose mismatches which the visitors struggled to handle, as the forward scored nine points in the third quarter to regain the advantage for his team.
Hometown talent Ciaran Sandy made a mark on the game too, running the floor and adding a punch to a Lions side in need for extra scoring in the absence of a number of key contributors, with so much talent sitting courtside nursing injuries and only able to watch on.
Unfortunately, the list of Lions casualties only grew tonight, as Jordan Taylor exited in the first half and didn’t return to the game.
In Taylor’s absence, however, Nelson made a string of plays to stretch the Lions lead, moving the ball effectively and applying impressive effort on the defensive end.
— London Lions (@LondonLions) January 4, 2024
Green buoyed Newcastle with a steady scoring display, but as they so often do, London established control of the fixture. The third period ended 71-66 in their favour.
Newcastle’s fatigue showed in the final quarter, as their thin roster struggled with just three points recorded off the bench. Rickey McGill joined the tremendous Austin Jr and Green in keeping Newcastle afloat with double-digit scoring.
With one eye on Friday night’s fixture against the Manchester Giants, the Eagles appeared to take their foot off the gas. Ultimately, their free-throw shooting hurt them greatly, missing 11 of their 25 attempts from the line.
A deep three in the final minute from Josh Sharma punctuated what turned out to be a fairly comfortable night for the Lions, who started their Trophy campaign with a 99-77 victory.
Player of the Game:
Tonight’s Player of the Game was Luke Nelson, who stepped up in the absence of his backcourt teammates. He finished the game with 20 points and 7 assists.
|Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles
|Larry Austin Jr
|Seriös Group Newcastle Eagles