London Lions Hold the Eagles to Two Open Play Buckets in the Last 5mins to Complete Comeback Road 85-88 Victory. Player of the Game, Tomislav “Zuba” Zubcic Records 15-Point, 4-Rebound and 3-Assist Performance to Help Lift Londoners Past the Geordies
Having not played the Eagles since 7th October 2022, the London Lions travelled 285 miles to the Northeast, having spent the last few days prepping for a team that made significant changes to it's roster since last year’s encounter.
Gone from that Eagles’ side are Lesley Varner, Duke Shelton and local talent Sauveur Kande, after disappointing showings during the earlier part of the season, as well as Ben Mockford, sidelined through injury. In their place, the Eagles recruited Denzel Ubiaro, Joshua Moore, and Hasahn French.
The Lions drew first blood via Jordan “JT” Taylor’s backdown mid-range turnaround jumper from the low post. Taylor’s brace sparked a near deafening 7-0 surge before the Geordies could record their first point on the board. Unbothered and composed, Newcastle’s December signing, Hasahn French, broke the Eagles’ duck a little over two minutes into the first (2-7).
Forward “Zuba” returned fire, but a 5-0 Javion Hamlet run sparked the first of many comebacks for the North-eastern outfit (7-9). A back-and-forth foray of buckets ensued for the next two minutes, which found the Geordies closing the gap to a mere three points by the halfway point of the first quarter (13-16). Taylor’s Zuba-assisted triple did little to hamper the growing confidence that the (new-ish) Eagles squad were harvesting, displayed with two back-to-back buckets to cut the lead to 17-19.
However, two consecutive 3-pointers from the Lions kept the Eagle at bay momentarily. This long-range shooting display was highlighted by Luke Nelson’s Miloš Teodosić-esque behind-the-back dime to Aaron Best, who obliged the assist by sinking a wide open triple from the wing (17-22).
The Eagles continued to claw their way back into the game through several suspicious foul calls on the Lions. With 01:26 left on the clock in the first, Best called for Sharma to set a screen for pick-and-roll action that the Canadian combo guard took full advantage of, driving to the bucket via a wide-openlane (21-29), once again keeping the Eagles at bay.
The Eagles ended the quarter on a momentum-shifting 2-way play that saw French block Sam Dekker’s layup attempt leading to Jermel Kennedy's fast-break 3-pointer (27-31).
Newcastle opened the second quarter with a 6-3 run and made the Lions wait until the 07:53 mark to record their first bucket of the period (33-34). The opponents continued to exchange leads over the next two minutes until Josh Ward-Hibbert’s 2-point bucket sparked a 7-2 London surge to claim a 41-45foothold on the game.
However, London’s missed shots plague the Lions and allowed the Eagle back into the game. The Eagles ended the period on a foray of buckets and stops, going on a 9-2 run to close out the quarter and take a confident (albeit a slender) lead into the halftime break (50-47).
The Lions opened up the third quarter with a vengeful alley-oop Sharma dunk off an Aaron Best dime (50-49) to cut the Northeast advantage to just one point. Jordan Taylor followed this brace up and snatched the lead back off a Sharma dime. The lead swapped hands two more times until (53-54) Justin Gordan’s bucket Newcastle’s sparked (almost) soul-destroying 10-0 run (63-54).
The Lions' fightback continued to be delayed and hampered by arrant foul calls on Sam Dekker, Jonathan “Jono” Komagum and Sharma, and an unfortunate Technical foul called on Coach Ryan Schmidt. A Hamlet foul on Luke Nelson, as he rose to take a 3-point shot, helped London pull themselves back into the game. Vojtech Hruban followed up all three of Nelson’s makes with a triple to go into the fourth just five points down (70-65).
Another foul call on the Lions opened the last period. However, Hruban brought his third quarter-ending-good-shooting form into the fourth and again connected from downtown. The make allowed the Lions to cut the Geordie boy advantage to four points (72-68) which Aaron Best followed up with a triple of his own, reducing the lead to a mere point. Unfortunately, this run was quickly rubbed out by a frustrating 5-0 Newcastle surge (77-71).
Sharma’s two free throws drew the Lions closer to the Eagles’ lead before French pushed the advantage back to six points (79-73). At this point, London went on an almighty 10-3 run (82-86) to regain the advantage. But Newcastle refused to go away and continued to force their way to the charity stripe, albeit through bad calls (83-86).
Not too long after Best’s charity stripe brace, the Lions played a strategic game and refused to allow the Eagles to shoot from long range, fouling them at the earliest given opportunity (85-87). Newcastle used the same tactic, but it was too little too late once “Zuba” hit his charity stripe shot (85-88).