Lions: Unable to Recover from Tough Start, Lions Lose 87-78 to Buducnost Voli
London Lions planned to re-group for their second EuroCup home game, their first at the world-renowned Wembley arena, against Buducnost Voli.
Feeling that they had to come out stronger than they had done in previous EuroCup games, head play-caller Ryan Schmidt earmarked a few critical note areas.
“We have to show up with something to prove. Go back and find your chip on your shoulder and let's show up with it at 7:30 [pm].”
Said Coach Ryan informed his comrades during the last preparations prior to the game.
Our hometown head coach also identified several key matchups, including Canadian point guard Trae Bell-Hayes, Phil Booth, Cameron Reynolds and Buducnost’s stacked bench.
“The key for the game is going to be their bench.
[They] do a really good job of elevating and impacting the game when they come in. They do a good job of speeding up the tempo; they play extremely hard, they’re physical, [they] crash the glass.
And that’s where they have really separated themselves during games. We’re going to need a good contribution from our second unit.”
With the squad well prepared and rejuvenated due to the return of the ever-so-vocal Sam Dekker, the Lions set their sights on victory against their Montenegrin opponents.
Coach Ryan slotted Dekker back into the EuroCup starting line-up, replacing Canadian guard Aaron Best, alongside Captain Ovie Soko, Vojtech Hruban, Kosta Koufos and Luke Nelson.
With the best intentions to start the game on the right foot, the Lions found themselves fighting an uphill battle from the tipoff. After less than 1 minute, London went 1-8 down via two long-range three-pointers from Trae Bell-Hayes and Cameron Reynolds, separated by an Alpha Kaba-made two-pointer.
The first period continued to worsen for our hometown heroes as with 4:35 left on the clock, London went 9-20 down. Two of the foremost common denominators that played a massive part in the first quarter’s downfall were London’s lack of rebounds (six in total) and Buducnost’s ability to knock down three-pointers. Big Man Alpha Kaba grabbed six of the Montenegrin-based squad’s ten first-quarter rebounds, and Voli as a team made four of seven three-pointers.
Thereafter, the two Group B teams traded buckets during a 6-9 run in favour of Buducnost Voli. The quarter drew to a close, with the Montenegrin-based team holding on to a 14-point advantage via their 15-29 lead.
Although Buducnost Voli maintained their advantage over our Lions, the second period ended honours even as both squads cancelled each other out, scoring 24 points each.
This can undoubtedly be attributed to the help of London’s strong home support, rallying the Lions to the chants of “Let’s Go, Lions, Let’s Go!” and “Come on, Lions, Let’s Go!”
These chants were rarely quietened. Even when Buducnost Voli combo guard Phil Booth blew by Luke Nelson for a 2-point layup at 9:36, the hometown faithful kept cheering on their hometown heroes.
As the support continued to rain down, the Lions continued to fight their way back into the game. The second unit’s Tomislav “Zuba” Zubcic, Kareem Queeley and Josh Ward-Hibbert totalled 9-points off the bench, which included a breakaway dunk by Queeley. Starters Luke Nelson, Soko, Hruban, Koufos and Dekker contributed 15-points to the battle of the second period.
Refreshed, recomposed and refocused after the halftime break, the third period saw the Lions play their best quarter of EuroCup basketball since their 22-15 fourth-quarter advantage against Trento.
Our hometown heroes won the third period 21-16 by firstly taking care of the ball, to the tune of only 1 turnover to Buducnost Voli’s 3. The Lions also outrebounded Buducnost for the first time during the, 14-9.
Rebounding, or the lack thereof, was one of the issues team captain Soko brought up during his halftime interview.
“We need to be more physical. They’re dominating in the paint.
They’re out-rebounding us.
We need to bring much more energy in the second half.”
The Lions collected 7 offensive boards, which contributed to second-chance points and fouls drawn, sending the team to the free-throw line 4 more times than in the second quarter. Their defensive identity re-affirmed, the Lions ended the period only 9-points down, with Buducnost leading 60-69.
“Zuba” opened the quarter with a turnaround bank shot over Aaron White after missing his well-orchestrated 3-point shot.
The excellent play continued when Best hit a sweet step-back mid-range 2-point shot, in Phil Booth’s face, after a dribble hand-off followed by a pick-and-roll play. These were the first 2 of the 10-points that Best scored during the last 5 minutes of the fourth-quarter battle.
With the Best and strongest of hearts, London’s Canadian combo guard continued to power his way to the bucket, drawing fouls and knocking down clutch free throws during crunch time.
Following yet another AND 1 play and hitting two more clutch free throws, Scarborough, Ontario’s finest stole the rock from Cameron Reynolds and it to Sam Dekker, who drew the foul.
“We didn’t get the result that we wanted. Winning and losing is the most important thing so individual stats is neither here nor there.”
Said Aaron Best, discussing his late fourth-quarter performance.
Undeterred by the missed free throws, Best and the Lions kept fighting but eventually to avail. Buducnost kept putting the game out of the Lions’ reach. With 34 seconds left on the clock and 76-82 on the scoreboard, Phil Booth hit a cold-blooded 3-point dagger, which all but sealed the victory for Buducnost.
“We’ve just got to find a way to sustain a high level of defensive effort for 40 minutes. We were able to put together some good stretches. We’ve just got to find a way to extend those stretches to a full 40 minutes.”
Best later added regarding the Lions’ defence.