The London Lions continued their dream start to the British Basketball season by picking up their second win in the opening weekend thanks to a 93-78 victory over Surrey Scorchers.
The game, played at the Copper Box on Sunday afternoon, was physical throughout, with both sides looking to build on their strong starts to the season. The Lions pushed out to an early lead after a slow first few minutes and were able to hold it at the first break 27-19, thanks largely to a strong shooting performance from marquee signing Justin Robinson. Rookie import Demonte Flannigan had an excellent game dominating in the paint and demonstrating a good range of shooting within the arc, an exciting glimpse at what may be possible from him in his first pro season.
The game was scrappy with both sides conceding a lot of fouls from the start, with the Lions giving up 8 in the first ten minutes alone. Emotions were clearly running high for former Lion Alex Owumi, who got into a shoving contest with Lions captain Joe Ikhinmwin, and Owumi was involved in another tussle wrestling on the ground to secure the ball from another Lion. Owumi has no ill feeling towards Ikhinmwin though, “Joe’s my brother man, we text every day and I told him I’m gonna do that.” The game settled down throughout the first and into the second quarter which saw the Lions ease into a big lead as they shot an incredible 75% from deep in the first half.
The new look London Lions have a much deeper bench than their fans will be used to and as such are able to rotate their players much more readily. They finished the half with an incredible 26 bench points to the Scorcher’s 1, with Moritz Lanegger and Jack Isenbarger particularly useful off the bench. Isenbarger is incredibly explosive and Coach Karol used this to full effect whenever possible to create space and score points.
Isenbarger also brings leadership to the Lions, taking responsibility on the defensive end and mentoring young Demonte Flannigan through the game. “I wanna help Demonte do as well as he possibly can. I want to be a good friend and good teammate and help him through the game.”
The halftime lead for the Lions was 16 points, 49-33 and they were well worth their lead thanks to some excellent team-first basketball. One first-half move saw every Lion handle the ball before Peel shot a long two from the top of the arc. The Scorchers were struggling to cope with the ball movement and struggled offensively shooting just 43% from the floor but with a very good 81% from free throws.
The second half started like the first had ended, the Lions sprinted into a big lead going on a 13-3 run to open the half. Robinson, who would finish with 15 points and 4 assists, was instrumental in this spell which ultimately sealed the victory for the home side. The Lions hit 4 three-pointers in the third quarter and looked like they’d never miss, a point made post game by the Scorchers’ Alex Owumi.
The Lions finished the game having shot just 10 free throws and racking up 26 fouls, an issue both Head Coach Mariusz Karol and veteran leader Andre Lockhart are keen to address. Lockhart had this to say after the game, “I think we got to cut down a little bit in practice we’re a little bit too handsy in practice. We need to tone it down a bit.”.
Coach Karol was ejected from the game for two technical fouls in quick succession question the decision-making of the referees, he was particularly unhappy with their officiating slowing the game down. “I asked them why they start to kill the game? I’m not talking about good or bad they’re just calling and calling.”
Coach Karol was particularly pleased with his team’s ability to defend, rebound and bench scoring, but will look for them to cut down the fouls and to get more free throws in the coming games.
The final quarter was a messy affair which started well but eventually broke down into scrappy poor basketball. With the Lions out in front by a big scoreline they found themselves settling for bad shots and conceding niggly fouls. It was during this period that two players and a coach were ejected and the Scorchers made the score a little more presentable.
Assistant coach Laurent Irish was generally pleased with the performance of the Lions but sees areas for improvement. “I thought offensively we were clicking, scored 93 points, though we could have scored some more. Defensively in the first half, slow rotations picked up some easy fouls…it got a bit heated in the last two minutes of the game a few things were said but hey, we finished off the game and got the W.”
The Lions are clearly pleased with their opening weekend of BBL action, taking two wins from two tricky games. The strength of their players and the depth of their bench are two key factors which will have opposition teams fearing the Lions in the chase for the playoffs.
Surrey came up a little short in terms of depth, but head home a very tough opening weekend with a cracking away win in Sheffield and gave the Lions a hint of what they can do. Tayo Ogedengbe, the talismanic leader of the Scorchers was their top scorer with 17 points adding 3 rebounds was a highlight for the Surrey side and will once again be an important player for them this season as they look to build on last season’s playoff quarter-final exit.
The Lions will host the Manchester Giants on Friday night as they look to continue their perfect start whilst the Surrey Scorchers go up to Chesire Oaks to face the Phoenix.
Photos: CarolJMoir. Follow Carol on Twitter here.