The London Lions Power through to beat the Surrey Scorchers 88-75 and Claim the 2023 British Basketball League Title. Player of the Game, Vojtech Hruban, Erupts for 17-Point, 8-Rebound Performance.
The London Lions powered past a tough and resilient Surrey Scorchers side to clinch the regular season league title. The StockX player of the game, Vojtech Hruban, made it rain from deep connecting on three triples en route to a 17-point performance. The sharpshooter complimented his points total with eight rebounds and one block.
Head coach Ryan Schmidt chose to return to the fast-paced, 3-guard-led starting lineup of Aaron Best, Jordan Taylor, and Miye Oni (at the wing), with Vojta Hruban and Tomislav “Zuba” Zubčić at the forward and center spots (respectively).
The Lions got off to a quick start following three dribble handoff actions, resulting in skipper Aaron Best slashing to the bucket for a lightly contested layup over Josh Steel (2-0). Despite an unfortunate out-of-bounds turnover from Hruban, London continued their tyranny, going 7-0 up within the first two minutes of the period.
Surrey Scorchers, the British Basketball League’s bottom dwellers, have found it extremely difficult to match up with the Lions' demanding physical presence, in the paint, throughout the season. However, with Josh Sharma and Kosta Koufos both sidelined and the Scorchers also playing without a “traditional” big, the visitors soon realised they matched up a little better than they previously did.
This was evident throughout the game as the Lions sometimes struggled to put together multiple stops. When London did, they failed to punish Surrey for their mistakes. Like their recent clash in the French capital, the Lions would also succumb to runs that would cancel out their leads.
Soon after London opened the game on a 7-0 run, the Scorchers returned fire with their very own 7-0 surge, with dry humour maverick Josh Steel grabbing the tying bucket (7-7). Not long after Best broke the tie with an and-1 Euro step bucket (10-7), the Lions and the Scorchers spent the rest of the quarter tussling to claim a hold on the game.
Both teams exchanged leads at least eight times towards the end of the period, but the Lions ended the quarter with a slender one-point lead (25-24). This was made possible due to Luke Nelson’s pick-and-roll dime to Jonathan “Jono” Komagum, who rose up and dunked the ball 11 seconds before the quarter-ending buzzer.
The second period got off to a frustrating start for the Lions, conceding a 5-0 surge that put the Guildford-based outfit 25-29 up. Fortunately, Komagum and Hruban went on to tie the ball game soon after (29-29), but the Lions failed to take advantage of their tightened defence and the multiple stops they created.
Surrey’s bruising 11-4 charge allowed the Tayo Ogedengbe-captained side to take a 33-40 lead to the frustration of the faithful home fans and head coach Ryan Schmidt who was forced to call a timeout.
Although the well-planned ATO resulted in a Zubčić bucket, London couldn’t stop the bleeding as the Scorchers continued to forge ahead, taking an eight-point lead (37-45) with less than a minute left on the clock. The Lions closed the quarter with three successful trips to the charity stripe, which allowed them to cut Surrey’s advantage down to two points (42-45) going into halftime.
The opening two minutes of the third quarter saw Surrey continue to keep the Lions at bay, highlighted by Tayo Ogedengbe’s triple, which gave Surrey a 45-49 lead. Back-to-back buckets from Oni and Zubčić tied the game at 49-49, but the Lions failed to take advantage of an Ogedengbe turnover. To the fans' chagrin, the Scorchers punished the home squad as a result of the free-throw line (49-52).
London’s quick 5-0 surge allowed the team to take a short-lived 54-52 lead before former London City Royals head coach Lloyd Gardner called a timeout to settle his Surrey side. The struggle for supremacy continued throughout the second half of the third quarter, with both teams swapping leads six times to close out the period (64-65).
With their Leicestershire-based arch-rivals beating Bristol 106-89, London knew that it was on them to finish the job off to lift the league trophy… and that’s precisely what they did!
London tightened their defence and opened the fourth period on an assertive 10-2 run (74-67). Back-to-back 3-pointers from Jordan Taylor and Josh Ward-Hibbert, after a Surrey bucket, blew the lead up to 13 points (80-67). Second-generation baller Andrew Lawrence gave Surrey some hope with a triple that cut the capital city's advantage to 11 points (81-70).
However, Ward-Hibbert helped London keep the heat on the Guildford-based team with a slick reverse and-1 layup (84-70). Buckets from former London Lions big man Ryan Martin and guard Josh Mcfolley cut the lead down to nine points (84-75) with one minute left on the clock. But Jordan Taylor cancelled any thoughts of a sudden comeback, closing out the period from open play and the free throw line to give the London Lions the WIN and clinch the 2023 league title.
Tomislav “Zuba” Zubčić supported his brethren in battle with 15 points, three rebounds, and two assists whilst connecting on all six free throw attempts. Josh Ward-Hibbert and Luke Nelson, whose father also picked up the league title 30 years ago, lead the bench mob with 14 points apiece. Nelson mixed his points with six assists, two steals and one block, whilst Ward-Hibbert added three rebounds, one assists and one steal.
Rookie forward Jonathan “Jono” Komagum came off the bench to record 11 points and six rebounds, shooting an efficient and team-leading 80% from the floor.