London Lions’ Crowned 2023 BBL Cup Champions After Tough Grind-Out 79-71 Victory Over Leicester Riders.
Most Valuable Player, Sam Dekker Records 22-Point, 9-Rebound Effort to Help Put Away the East Midland Outfit.
Completing the historic clean sweep of British Basketball's 2023 Cup Finals was the London Lions men’s team, who used the first three quarters to build up enough of an advantage to withstand the Riders’ fourth-quarter charge.
Player of the game, Sam Dekker, although just missing out on a double-double, contributed 22 points, nine rebounds, two steals and one block. During his almost 31 minutes on the floor, the combo forward generated a plus-minus of 12, thus being one of the main reasons why the Lions kept the Midlanders from snatching a lead. Dekker also finished the final, knocking down a game-high four 3-pointers, one in the first quarter, two in the second and another in the third period.
The Lions got out to an 11-6 start via the contributions of Kosta Koufos, Sam Dekker and Tomislav Zubcic. However, despite mid-range jumpers from Aaron Best and Jordan Taylor, the Leicestershire representatives edged their way back into the game.
With patience being a virtue, especially in a final’s showdown, the Lions had to wait until the 01:31 mark to put some distance between them and the Riders. Looking to extend the Lions' single-point lead, Luke Nelson took advantage of second-generation baller Blake Bowman’s sloppy pass and directed the rock towards Best, who finished the 2-way play with a layup. This sparked a 6-2 run to end the period and give the Londoners a 21-16 lead going into the second quarter.
The second ten-period was much the same, with the Lions keeping the franchise formally known as the Loughborough All-Stars at bay. Koufos, Ovie Soko and Dekker were the protagonists behind London’s opening 7-2 run, but Aaron Menzies and Patrick Whelan kept the game close for the Riders (22-28).
Whelan used two charity stripe connects to close the gap to seven towards the end of the quarter, only for Taylor to put the Lions back up by nine via a well orchestrated ATO (After Time Out) in the dying seconds of the period.
Both teams traded blows during the opening three minutes of the third, with Koufos capping off the back-and-forth affair with a nifty post-move hook shot. The play, assisted by a dime from Tomislav “Zuba” Zubcic, sparked a 6-0 run that put the Lions up by 12 points (50-38). Both teams, once again, went bucket for bucket, with London continuously keeping the East Midland outfit at bay (56-43).
Captain Ovie Soko, who finished the game with a ten points, three rebounds, one assist and one steal, put the Lions up by 16, only for Zach Jackson to use two free throw opportunities to cut the lead back to 14 points with ten seconds left on the clock. Although the Lions walked into the fourth quarter with a 14-point advantage, it never felt safe – and it wasn’t!
The Riders took charge of the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to the tune of a 0-10 run that cut the lead to a mere four points (64-60). Although Dekker’s back-to-back buckets stopped the Leicestershire run momentarily, Darien Nelson-Henry and Whelan kept fighting, cutting the lead back to six points.
The Riders kept the pressure on, but the Lion-hearted Londoners fought back time and time again, pushing the lead back up to eleven points via a baseline drive dunk from player of the game Sam Dekker.
Jackson’s triple once again cut the lead back to eight points with twenty-seven seconds left on the clock, but a combination of made free throw shots from Taylor and Nelson put the final nails in the Riders’ late-game charge. Although Loving hit a 3-point at the very end of the quarter, it was too little, too late, and London Lions men’s team were crowned 2023 BBL Cup Champions.