London Lions Survive to Claim Tough Gritty Road Win, 76-83. Player of the Game, Miye Oni Battled to Achieve EuroCup Career High Double-Double, 22 Points and 12 Rebounds to Help the Lions Solidify Seventh Spot in Group.
Although the Lions had (mathematically) qualified for the 7Days EuroCup playoffs, following their emphatic home win against Hamburg, the Londoners travelled to Poland knowing that a win would help solidify their spot.
There are no easy games in the EuroCup, and the entire team knew that this road game against Slask Wrocław would be challenging and nothing like the previous encounter. Last week Monday, 27th February, the reigning Polish league (Basket Liga) champions announced the appointment of their new head coach, Turkish basketball legend Ertugrul Erdogan.
A well-known and respected game planner, Erdogan is a proven winner, having coached Fenerbahce to the 2010 Turkish League championship. Slask coupled this announcement with their recent signings of three-point threat Vasa Pusica, forward D.J. Mitchell and big man Serhii Pavlov.
The Londoners got out to a great start with the help of eventual Player of the Game, Miye Oni, who pocketed eight points en route to helping the Lions claim a 10-17 lead. The Olympian and former Ivy League star cracked holes in Slask’s defence, sinking two triples and a two-point bucket during the run. Unnerved after the Polish champions returned fire with their own 5-0 surge, the Lions were able to keep them at bay with the help of free throws and yet another bucket from Oni (15-21).
Tomislav “Zuba” Zubcic helped push the Lion advantage out to a 17-25 lead shortly before the new Slask signing D.J. Mitchell cut the lead to five points after connecting from long range (20-25). Foul calls allowed the Polish side to cut the lead down further to just three points, but Lion-hearted captain Aaron Best returned the lead back to five points from the charity stripe. Zuba ended the period with a signature trey ball of a high-IQ dime from Luke Nelson.
The second quarter was a much more slowed-down and gritty affair as both Ertugrul Erdogan, and tinkerman Ryan Schmidt used the break to fine-tune their respective defences. Although the Londoners held the Wrocław-based outfit to just twelve points, they could only produce ten points of their own during the period.
Both defences caused significant gaps in scoring for their opponents. After Jordan Taylor put the Lions ahead by eight points (26-34), the Slask fans had to wait almost three minutes for their team to score (28-34). That said, the small but faithful contingent of Lions fans in Centennial Hall and back home in London had to wait four minutes to see the Lions sink thier next bucket (29-36).
Zuba followed this brace with a clean look and connect from the free throw line (29-37). Slask Wrocław forced London into another scoring drought, lasting just over one minute, during which time Slask cut the lead again to five points (33-37). Best’s 3-pointer helped calm the nerves of the Lions fans (33-40) at the 01:51 mark, only for Slask to close the quarter out with a short surge that cut the lead to four points (36-40).
London reignited their fluid offence in the third quarter scoring 22 points but, in turn, conceding 25. Slask started the period off with an 8-0 run that gave them a five-point lead (45-40) and forced Coach Ryan to call a timeout. Sam Dekker’s double free throw connects brought the Polish lead down to three points (45-42) before Jeremiah Martin’s brace pushed the advantage back to five points (47-42).
The back-court tandem of Jordan Taylor and Miye Oni spent the next three minutes and forty-two seconds wrestling the lead back from the Polish home team to claim a 49-54 lead. Both hit a 3-pointer each, layups and mid-range shots, whilst Oni and Dekker blocked shots and grabbed steals to keep Slask at bay.
However, that five-point lead was somewhat short-lived as Wrocław fought their way back into the game, taking a one-point lead (58-57) with 01:29 left on the clock in the third and then a two-point lead with 55 seconds left on the clock (61-59). However, Ivy leaguer Miye Oni tied the game up when he connected with 46 seconds on the clock right before Best gave the Lions a one point lead to close the period.
The Lions tightened up their defence in the fourth quarter, to the effect of just 15 Wrocław points compared to London’s 21 - but it was a back-and-fourth tussle in the early going. Slask tied the score twice during the first three and a half minutes (63-63 and then again 66-66); however, back-to-back buckets from Taylor and Josh Sharma wrestled the lead back in London’s favour (66-70).
Dekker continued to break loose of Slask’s defensive stranglehold pocketing his ninth point at the 04:35 mark (68-74), just before Oni grabbed his 20th point. Dekker and Oni then went on to share scoring duties from open play and from the charity stripe to help the Lions to a ten-point, 68-78 lead. Slask’s Vasilije Pusica continued to wage war on the nerves of Lions fans before Taylor hit a trey ball dagger with 51 seconds left on the timer (73-81) to claim his 21st point. The former University of Wisconsin-Madison standout, who finished the game with 23 points, seven rebounds, two assists and 3 steals, the closed the game out with a pair of free throws for the 76-83 win.