London Lions
Leicester Riders

A stunning comeback saw London Lions keep their BBL Cup hopes alive as Leicester Riders left the Copper Box with a 99-96 victory in the semi-final first leg, on Friday evening.

Vince Macaulay’s side trailed by 23 with two minutes of the third period remaining before Justin Robinson’s drive to the basket sparked the comeback which saw the visitors outscored 31-11 in the final 12 minutes of the game. Lions will now travel to the Morningside Arena in late December needing a four-point win to join their women’s team at the NIA for Cup final day.

Macaulay was understandably delighted with his side’s fighting spirit: “It was certainly an entertaining game for the fans” he said.

“We had some lulls, we’re tired and banged up with three players missing, but we found our energy before it was too late. I thought Justin and Andre [Lockhart] gave us the energy and there was some great shot-making from Lorenzo and Dirk. Chris [Tawiah] and Will [Neighbour] gave us some good minutes while Julian [Washburn] made a couple of big blocks.
“I’m delighted to still be in the game and when we go to Leicester on the 30th we’ll be fresh.”

Dirk Williams had another big night for the Lions, missing just three of his 13 shots on the way to 24 points and three assists. Lorenzo Cugini hit four triples as he finished with 22 points and three assists while Isaiah Reese had five rebounds and as many assists to go with his 13 points. Captain Robinson finished with 12 points and four assists. Patrick Whelan led a balanced Riders offence that saw six players in double figures as he went nine-from-11 to finish with 25 points.

Reese opened the scoring with a triple but Riders replied with a 9-2 run to take the lead and although three-point plays from Williams and Reese help tie the game at 18 with four minutes on the clock, it took a Robinson triple to keep Lions in touch as Leicester took a 31-25 lead into the first break.

A Williams triple kept the hosts in touch early in the second period as Riders started well and Will Neighbour also drained from downtown to cut Leicester’s lead to 39-35 with four minutes gone. Williams hit another triple to make it a one point game but Lions continued to trail and despite Cugini and Williams converting from the Land of Plenty, the visitors led 55-48 going into half time as Marc Loving scored from long range.

A Reese layup made it a five point game with the opening score of the second half but Riders hit ten unanswered points to spark a Macaulay timeout with the visitors leading 72-56 with 5:38 on the clock.

Riders came out of that break with a 5-0 burst and although Washburn and Robinson both hit treys, Whelan replied on each occasion.

Jackson’s triple gave Riders a 88-65 lead with 2:09 on the clock before Robinson got Lions going and a pair of Lockhart free-throws cut Riders’ lead to 88-69 at the final break.

Tawiah split a pair at the foul line to open the fourth quarter before getting the crown on their feet with a dunk but Lions were still down by 18 following Loving’s turnaround jumper with 6:39 on the clock.

Inevitably it was Williams who sparked the 9-2 tear that dragged Lions back into the tie, with Cugini hitting a three pointer to cap it the run.

Cugini hit another shot from downtown and then made a lay-up make it a seven point game heading into the final two minutes before a Reese and-one took the deficit down to four. And Kylor Kelley’s dunk followed by Washburn’s lay-up ensured that Lions can travel to Leicester knowing that they are still in with a shout of winning the season’s opening piece of silverware.

Watch the replay