BBL Cup Semi-Final
Bristol Flyers 79-97 London Lions (21-32, 15-20, 22-26, 21-19)
(Flyers: Olison, 17; Mahan, 16; Bell, 15 — Lions: Koufos, 24; Dekker, 20; Hruban, 18)
Kosta Koufos and Sam Dekker led the way, with 24 and 20 points, respectively, while Vojtech Hruban rounded out the big three with 18 of his own.
The Bristol Flyers are one of just two teams to have taken a game off the London Lions in the BBL Championship so far this season.
In SGS College Arena at the start of November, Bristol showed the visitors that the season would be no walk in the park, despite their talent.
This meant the Lions were out for revenge when they welcomed the Flyers to the Copper Box last weekend – and they got it with a 35-point victory.
But when they met again in Bristol a few days later, the stakes were higher, as a place in the BBL Cup Final was at stake.
Lions head coach Ryan Schmidt reiterated this thought before tip-off and said: “We’ve got our work cut out for us tonight. Friday meant absolutely nothing, it was one game out of 36 regular season games, but tonight is a knock-out game. It’s winner take all.”
London upgraded their talent for the contest, as 7Days EuroCup veteran Jordan Taylor joined the team and immediately showed what he was capable of, with four points out of the gate.
Bristol came back quickly, thanks to Tevin Olison’s attack. Teammate Brandon Mahan kept them within striking distance when the team moved the ball around the perimeter to find the shooter open for a big three.
While inbounding the ball, London’s Josh Sharma stepped over the line and turned it over.
The Flyers ran an out-of-timeout play to pop Mahan open for three again, and he pulled them within one point while forcing his Lions coach Ryan Schmidt to take a timeout.
It didn’t take long for the Lions to go on a run, and the size of the roster stood out while doing so.
Dekker, at 6’9, made the most of this when he got under the basket. The Flyers packed the paint, but his poise showed out – he waited for a beat until the defence retreated, then spun back baseline for an up-and-under layup.
Bristol scored two buckets for one in the final 30 seconds to bring them within 11 at the end of the first quarter.
London came out of the break with a 3-2 zone that proved effective, and on offence, they found Koufos on the low post for a hook shot over Malcolm Delpeche.
Despite the twin-tower line-up of Koufos and Sharma, Bristol forward Thomas Bell III received a high-low pass cutting towards the rim and avoided the long wingspans of the defenders for a tough layup.
Sharma took a seat after landing awkwardly on a dunk attempt.
Bell also slipped awkwardly on a jump stop down the other end a few possessions later, but the Lions made the most of the five-on-four opportunity, and Koufos got a transition layup, plus the free throw foul shot.
This opened the gap back up to 14, and after a handful of unforced turnovers, Dekker pushed it to 16 on a fast break layup.
To stop the game from slipping away too far as the half came to a close, Mahan broke free again in the corner for his third three-point shot.
Hruban managed a layup before the half up the other end to head into the locker room 52-36.
Dekker opened up the second-half scoring after a patient London offence worked the ball around to get Bristol’s defence out of position. He received a pass from Taylor to hit from distance.
A horns-high double screen for Taylor saw the guard take Koufos as the screen. The big man dove as the ball moved to the other screener, Tomislav Zubcic, at the top of the key and fired a pass inside. Koufos received the ball in a deep post position and rose for an easy hook shot to push the lead to 20 points.
The Lions maintained a swarming defence, which forced the Flyers into difficult shots.
This wasn’t a problem for Mahan, who hit his fourth straight pull-up three, and Ollison joined him on the next possession.
Bell followed this by chasing his own miss to score off an offensive rebound and reduce the gap to 19.
It was pushed back to 20 on the final play of the day. Taylor showed his experience managing the shot clock, getting open and floating the ball up to Koufos, who kept the ball high for a finish at the rim.
Mahan kept the hot shooting going as he scored another three at the top of the arc to cut the Lions’ lead to 16, and Delpeche followed this up by running the floor after a London miss for a dunk of his own.
London’s offence slowed its movement for a few consecutive possessions, but against a good defence like Bristol’s, they will make you pay.
Within a few short plays, the Flyers turned the ball over several times and flew up the court to cut the gap to 11 with four minutes to go, which ignited the home crowd.
Bristol’s momentum was interrupted by an excellent rebound by Koufos. He spotted two Lions leaking out and threw a pass to Zubcic at halfcourt, who found Mo Soluade cutting to the rim for a three-second offence and an easy layup.
Koufos was the man down the stretch. When the London offence was slow with two minutes left, he took the ball from the top of the key, shimmied and shook his way into the lane for two.
Then, a Bristol turnover found its way to Dekker, who spotted the big man running ahead and found Koufos for an open dunk and a 15-point lead, which grew to 18 by the end of the contest.
The win was hard-fought, but the Lions showed their teeth in this Cup Semi-Final to secure a place at Birmingham’s Utilita Arena in January.
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