London Lions Exact Revenge on Paris Basketball with 85-96 Road Win to End EuroCup Regular Season. Tomislav Zubčić’s 24 Points Helps Lions Weather Second Quarter Parisian Storm
2023’s EuroCup co-debutants Paris Basketball and the London Lions closed out the regular season with a thrilling clash that produced a 29-point British first quarter, back-to-back alley-oop dunks and a block that would make Dikembe Mutombo proud.
Player of the game, Tomislav “Zuba” Zubčić, knocked down a game-leading five 3-pointers and all three of his charity stripe attempts en route to a 24-point performance. The forward also complimented his points production with four assists, three rebounds and two steals.
With Sam Dekker and Kosta Koufos out, coach Ryan Schmidt chose Vojta Hruban and Tomislav Zubčić to replace them in the Lions’ starting lineup. This shrewd move by the Lions’ playcaller slotted Hruban and “Zuba” into the vacant power forward and center positions (respectively), allowing both sharpshooters to space the floor around the perimeter.
From the offset, this move proved to be the right one, but not (initially) in the form of spaced-out shooting. London drew first blood when Zubčić, a well-respected long-range shooter, used his presence at the top of the 3-point arc to draw out a defender. With the rock in his hands, the 6’11” spotted a wide-open and cutting Miye Oni, who laid in an almost uncontested shot, in the low post (0-2).
The high-IQ opening action sparked the Lions into an aggressive 3-8 start that Boston Celtic’s 2021 second-round draft pick, Juhann Begarin, momentarily stopped scoring two points off Denis Gauthier’s dime (5-8). Paris and London would then exchange free throw attempts, makes and eventually leads (7-10) until Gauthier tied up the game with a long-range shot (10-10).
Both teams tried but failed to put daylight between themselves and their opponent (17-17) until the Team GB star Luke Nelson followed up Josh Sharma’s free throw connects, putting the Londoners 17-21 up. The combo guard followed up his brace with another bucket just before Hruban punished the Parisians with a 3-point make off the back of Sharma’s block on Amar Gegic (17-26).
When Mo Soluade followed up with a 3-point of his own, with just nine seconds left on the clock, many travelling fans thought it may have been the perfect end to a (near) perfect quarter. However, they were sorely mistaken as Tyrone Wallace woke up the home fans with a mid-range connection to steal some of the momentum back from the Londoners (19-29).
The Lions continued their aggressive onslaught at the start of the second quarter when Nelson hit a running Josh Sharma with an alley-oop dime to put the Lions 19-31 up. London’s good fortune and spacing continued with Hruban’s two-point bucket giving the Lions a 13-point lead (23-36).
However, amped by the rising noise and frustrations of the home crowd, Paris’ fightback went up a gear as Axel Toupane, Begarin, and Ismael Kamagate put together a 7-3 surge to shave the British lead down to nine points (30-39).
Paris kept altering the in-arena momentum, forcing the Lions into defensive breakdowns and gradually increasing the pressure on the Brits. However, 3-point makes by Zuba and Hruban kept the Parisians at bay (34-47), but not for too long, as Paris went on another run to cut the advantage down to six points (41-47). A bucket from Hruban helped to stem the tide, but the levies broke towards the end of the quarter as Paris closed out the half on an 8-0 surge.
The third quarter opened up with a foray of back-to-back alley-oop dunks. First from Zuba via an assist from skipper Aaron Best and second from Kamagate via a pass from Wallace (51-51). A triple from Zuba put the Lions up 51-56 shortly after the high-flying shenanigans, but London failed to sustain the advantage, conceding a 6-0 run and the lead after that (57-56).
Miye Oni’s 3-pointer put the Londoners 59-66 up by the halfway point of the period, but Paris continued to force their way back into the game, once again cutting the lead back down to three points (63-66). Fortunately for the Lions, this was the closest Paris got to overtaking them in the quarter, as the Lions closed out the period on a 3-8 run (66-74).
Luke Nelson’s triple at the 08:11 mark of the fourth quarter capped off an impressive 2-7 surge the Lions used to open the period and put more daylight between them and Paris (69-81). However, undeterred, Wallace followed that up with his own solo 6-0 run (75-81) to keep the pressure on the visitors. Nelson fought back with his third triple of the game before Begarin sparked Paris’ 7-2 run (82-86). Buckets from Sharma, Zuba and Best stole the momentum back and injected more breathing space between them and Paris (82-93). Free throw makes from Kamagate did little to nothing to trouble London towards the end of the period, which Zuba topped off with a game-ending 3-pointer.