The London Lions bounced back to winning ways, defeating the Leicester Riders 81-95 and taking the head to head against the BBL champions.
This was supposed to be a party for the Riders who were celebrating being presented with their third BBL championship in three years – no mean feat! But no one told the Lions, who tore up the script in dramatic fashion to outclass the home side.
Paul Guede led the scoring for the Lions with 18 points – including four strikes from behind the arc, while Cory Dixon (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Justin Robinson (13 points, 10 assists) netted double-doubles.
One of the keys to the game for the Lions was forcing turnovers, with the Riders losing the ball 21 times – and London making 26 points from those opportunities.
It was a polished Lions performance, and one that will give them confidence heading into the post season.
The Lions started the stronger of the two sides. With 8 minutes to go in the first quarter, Guede nailed a three to tie the game. Robinson followed shortly afterwards, with back to back threes to put London back out in front.
With 5.13 remaining in the quarter, a lovely dunk from Dixon saw the Lions lead increase to six. He made the and one to take the lead to seven.
The Riders kept coming back but could do nothing as the Lions lead continued to grow, first thanks to a shot from downtown by Robinson, then thanks to a layup from Jon Thompson.
With the lead now in double figures, the Lions kept up the pressure, forcing a turnover and foul combination that saw Andre Lockhart head to the line to make both free throws.
With the seconds ticking down Joe Ikhinmwin – freshly back from international duty at the Commowealth Games- drove to the basket only to be fouled. He made both, taking the Lions up by 11 (18-29) by the end of an action packed first quarter.
Despite a series of memorable victories during his absence, Ikhinmwin’s return took the Lions up a gear, with his cool head and smooth handling skills proving invaluable to the team in some of the more difficult moments of the game.
The second quarter was to be more feisty, with pushing and shoving from both teams as Leicester desperately tried to halt the Lions advances.
There didn’t seem to be any stopping the Lions however, and with 1.11 left in the half, Lockhart, making the most of yet another Riders turnover, nailed a two point shot to take the lead to 16.
Leicester’s attempt at a comeback were aided significantly as the officials decided they’d had enough of the rough stuff and Ikhinmwin was somewhat harshly judged to have committed an unsportsmanlike foul. Leicester made five quick points off the back of that play, which Lockhart couldn’t answer as the buzzer went for halftime with the score 39-48.
Things were going to get worse as the third quarter began. The Lions – for the only time in the game – struggled and Leicester pounced. With 7.27 left in the quarter, the Lions lead had been cut to four.
Guede stepped up again, his shot from behind the arc steadying the ship and putting the lead back up to seven.
The Lions were back at in and quickly putting on the points. As Brandon Peel stepped up and made the three with 3.21 to go, the lead was now 17.
Some great work by Ikhinmwin helped Thompson and Dixon extend the lead to 22 with 2.22 left in the quarter. And thanks to a layup from Ikhinmwin, that’s how it stayed going into the fourth.
The fourth was by no means the Lions strongest quarter, as Leicester fought hard to get back in the game. But at every turn, the Lions outplayed them.
Despite reducing the Lions lead, Leicester wouldn’t again be able to get it into single figures as the Lions came away comfortable winners.
The Lions are back in action next Saturday, for the final home game of the regular season, at the Copper Box when the visitors are the Manchester Giants. Tip off is 7.30pm.
(Report; P. Groves, Pic; Cory Dixon Courtesy, G. Hodges)
Lions Scorers; Guede 18, Dixon 15, Robinson 13, Peel 13, Thompson 13, Ikhinmwin 8, Lockhart 5, Larkai 4, Okoro 4, Roberts 2, James 0, Ekperuoh 0.
Riders Scorers; Hampton 15, Douse 15, Robertson 8.