A winning return for new London Lions head coach Vince Macaulay as his side defeated a strong Sheffield Sharks 81-73 at the Copper Box Arena on Sunday, lead by a terrific all-around performance from Jack Isenbarger.
The Lions entered the clash without Will Hall and Moritz Lannegar who did not dress and Momcilo Latinovic who is still suffering from a hip injury that has kept him out for weeks. The Sharks entered with an almost full-strength squad, missing only Marko Backovic due to personal reasons.
The hosts started the game strong, keeping the Sharks scoreless in the opening minutes until a thunderous slam dunk from Dirk Williams broke the visitors’ drought. Jack Isenbarger was on fire in the first half collecting six rebounds, 6 points and 3 assists to enter the break with an efficiency rating of 14. Brandon Peel and Corey Dixon led the way in scoring with 10 points apiece.
The Lions had the better of the first two-quarters of basketball but found themselves with only a three-point advantage at the half, as the Sharks were able to quietly accumulate points, thanks largely to an efficient first half from Robert Marsden, 6 points from 5 attempts with Christopher Alexander scoring 8 from 5 attempts, one being a three-pointer taken in the face of Andre Lockhart and Alexander let him know all about it.
The basket of the game was scored in the first as Lockhart, the tricky defensive guard out of Queens, stole the inbound and layed off a gorgeous drop pass for Dixon to slam home, to leave Dixon on 998 points.
Milestones were met in the first half for both Corey Dixon and Robert Marsden. Dixon scored his 1,000th point in the BBL in the second quarter. Marsden pulled down rebound number 1,000 in BBL competition to complement his efficient scoring.
The third quarter saw the Lions blow the game wide open with a 7-0 run that forced a timeout of Sharks Head Coach Atiba Lyons. The timeout did little to help his side as the Lions, led by the red-hot Isenbarger and Dixon, continued to pile on the points.
The hosts held a 63-50 lead heading into the final quarter. Coach Atiba Lyons had seen enough and threw over the advertising board in front of his bench before screaming at his star players, in particular, Marsden and Gachette. It seemed to work as his side went on a 5-0 run out the break. That run was ended in emphatic style, however, by Lions leader Joe Ikhinmwin with a monster two-handed jam.
Mike Tuck came into the game in a big way in the final term. A three-pointer from the top of the key to bringing the gap to within single digits and he would shrink it further, down to six on the next play, a lay-in after a defensive stop. Tuck, the veteran leader of the Sharks forced another stop as he tipped Peel’s pass intended for Guede, but the resulting jump ball gave the Lions possession and a foul on Peel sent him to the line.
The Lions upped their defensive effort in the second half of the quarter as Lockhart, always a busy defensive player, stole the ball in the paint to send Brandon Peel sprinting towards the Sharks net. Instead of scoring himself Peel played a bounce pass to the cutting Isenbarger to finish with the reverse layup.
The Lions secured their grasp on the game late in the quarter. Out of a Lions timeout, Dixon rescued a ball destined to go out of bounds with a bounce pass through a forest of arms to find Peel whose two-handed Shaq style dunk sent Dixon sprinting up the court arms extended staring down the Sharks bench. Tony Wroblicky fouled out of the tie with just two minutes to go in the game as the Lions lead by 9 points a wide open Isenbarger three-pointer restoring a healthy Lions lead.
The Sharks closed the gap in the final minute to just six points, Alexander draining two shots from deep but it was too little too late as the Lions kept going back at the Sharks. By the time the visitors started late-game fouling it was already too late for them before Justin Robinson’s free throws settled the tie and sent the Lions fans home, delighted with the 8 point victory.