The London Lions beat the Cheshire Phoenix 87 – 81 at the Copper Box Arena London in the BBL Championship on Wednesday evening.
Cheshire entered the clash with just 7 men, due to an internal one-game ban to Jordan Session, but were buoyed by a big win over the other new boys London City Royals whilst the Lions were fresh off a trip up North having dispatched with the struggling Radisson Red Glasgow Rocks.
The Lions made the better start with a quickfire three-pointer getting the scoring underway from Jordan Spencer, who was the primary playmaker of the Lions in the opening term. Midway through the opening term the game swung against the hosts as Jimario Rivers acted as a one-man wrecking crew for the Phoenix scoring 9 of the first 12 points for the Cheshire club as the hosts looked sluggish and were sloppy when in possession of the basketball.
Former Lion Momcilo Latinovic impressed all game for the Phoenix. Acting as a key member of the offence with plenty of the ball passing through his hands, Latinovic, Rivers and Dil’Jon Allen-Jordan all put up numbers for the visitors in the first half to give their side a 40-46 lead at the half.
The second half started just as the first had, a triple from young Jordan Spencer, but just as with the opening quarter, the Phoenix got into their rhythm and managed the gap over the Lions during the third period playing aggressive basketball in the paint getting to the line on numerous occasions to good effect.
Brandon Peel, the Lions big man struggled early on in the paint but has begun to extend his range and used it to great effect draining big threes to keep his side in the contest. Fatigue started to set in for the Phoenix in the closing moments of the third quarter allowing the Lions back into the contest.
Peel nailed a three-pointer from the top of the arc to give the Lions their first lead since the opening minutes of the game and his forward partner, the exciting Ladarius “Ludicrus” Tabb added to the Lions lead from the line. Both sides traded buckets in the fourth, as Peel and Tabb went head to head with Latinovic who played the role of icer for the visitors.
The Lions built a healthy nine-point gap with a minute to go but sloppy play allowed the Phoenix to bring the gap down to four before Justin Robinson, the reigning MVP, closed out the game at the line for the Lions.
The Lions secured victory thanks to their superior quality, eventually, being allowed to shine against a shorthanded Phoenix that ran out of energy. In the final 12 minutes of the game, the Lions settled down in possession and controlled the ball much better than earlier in the contest.
Game MVP: Brandon Peel. Another double-double with 22 points and 13 rebounds it was Peel’s three-point shooting which proved the difference between the sides. Special mention to Jerelle Okoro who limited Latinovic to only free throws in the last 14 minutes of the game, using his superior fitness to wear the Serbian out.
“We were incredibly sluggish” said Lions Head Coach, Vince Macaulay,” All I can think is the long journey to Glasgow and back plus a number of us were in Liverpool on Monday for a funeral and I think it was in the legs and consequently the brains, we let them have whatever they wanted and they played with nothing to lose, in the end adjustments at the half and a grit we showed in the fourth helped us win an ugly game in which I’m not sure we could have played much worse.”
Lions have some days off before facing Lavar Ball and his JBA team at home on the 3rd of November and then the Manchester Giants in Manchester the following day.
(Picture- Robinson evades Phoenix, Pic; G. Hodges, Report; D. Paul)
Lions Scorers; Peel 22, Tabb 20, Robinson 18, Spencer 15, Okoro 6, Bristol 4, Larkai 2, Lockhart 0, James 0, Ikhinmwin 0, Guede 0, Ekperuoh.
Phoenix Scorers; Rivers 23, Allen-Jordan 15, Latinovic 15.