London Lions 88 – 72 Glasgow Rocks

Copper Box Arena

Sunday 8 December 2019.

The London Lions kicked off their BBL Championship title defence in front of a packed Copper Box Arena on Sunday afternoon, with a comprehensive 88-72 victory over the Radisson Red Glasgow Rocks.

The league champions were able to finally start their marquee signing Ovie Soko for the first time after the three month Cup competition came to an end for the Lions last weekend to the Riders.

The Glasgow Rocks entered the contest after a three-week break. Their cup adventure saw them miss the quarterfinals which left time to regroup.

The first quarter of action flew by as the Lions established a 29-17 lead thanks in part to impressive shooting from the perimeter and their traditional strong presence inside with Brandon Peel and new man Ovie Soko.

Soko had an immediate impact with 6 points in the first period of play and an excellent pass that drew appreciation from a crowd hanging on his every move but Peel was not quite able to finish at the rim.

The second quarter continued with the same energy that the first had ended with, Soko going hard to basket and drawing an early foul, but the Rocks would do a much better job on defence in the second period, even with Soko, Peel and Robinson all on the floor. Captain, Joe Ikhinmwin had set the tone with smooth outside shooting as the Lions were making over half their shots.

Gareth Murray was in the mood to show why he is so important for the national team with a brilliant spin move and and-one lay-up on Brandon Peel, a solid defender in his own right.

Peel returned to the action in the second quarter and contributed on both ends. The man tipped by some to be the MVP this season reminded the world of British Basketball what he is about though with a great block on Rinkunas in the dying moments of the first half before Jules Dang-Akodo found Sam Toluwase who sank a corner three on the buzzer to send the Lions into the break up 46-29.

Peel would go on to finish with another double-double a team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Ali Frasier, who led the Rocks in scoring at the break looked to take the game over in the third quarter with an impressive offensive display but it wasn’t enough to bridge the gap as the Lions extended their lead by a further three points heading into the final period.

Frasier, who represented Scotland at the 2018 Commonwealth games, was tireless despite having to defend Brandon Peel and Alioune Tew, and score on Peel, showed off impressive footwork and strong post play to lead the team with 24 points 3 rebounds and 3 assists.

The final term was edged by the Rocks, but the Lions who controlled the contest from the opening tip had done more than enough to control the fixture until the final buzzer.

Postgame, Ovie Soko remarked on being back home as “feeling surreal” but enjoyed playing home in front of friends and family.

Soko has been in training for around a month with his new teammates, “The guys have been great, they have been awesome, they’ve welcomed me with open arms and have really made it easy for me”. In terms of the season, Soko is confident in the team’s ability stating “the sky is the limit.”

Vince Macaulay was pleased with the win, but felt the defending left a little to be desired, “I know we held them to 72 but it really wasn’t what we wanted to do, but it’s early days.”

The Lions head coach was delighted with his new signing’s ability and fit with the team “Ovie’s joined us he’s a major cog in the wheel, so he has to be fitted into everything we do, we know he’s an exceptional player but we’ve got to be able to play around him and with him, so I think there is a lot more to come especially when we play some of the tougher clubs.

The Lions travel to Manchester next weekend before hosting the Bristol Flyers at the Copper Box Arena on the 18th December.

Report; Darren Paul – Focus Hoops, Pic; Graham Hodges