The London Lions made it a winning start to 2019 with a decisive 81-68 win over the Bristol Flyers in the Copper Box arena on Friday in the BBL Championship.
The London Lions entered the contest well rested, having had a week since their last game, a road victory over the Manchester Giants, whilst the Flyers entered also off good rest but with inconsistent form, following a road loss to the Raiders in the trophy.
The Lions were without versatile defender Flo Larkai, rested as a precaution due to some ankle soreness but were glad to have their captain Joe Ikhinmwin back to full fitness to help make up for Larkai’s absence.
The Flyers welcomed back Mike Vigor to league action after giving him a well-deserved break. Vigor had gone seven years playing year round and needed the break. Head Coach Andreas Kapoulas is glad to have him back, bringing experience and hunger to succeed for the club.
Kapoulas pregame was keen to stress the importance of “controlling the small things”, hustling and playing consistent defence to give them the best chance of winning games.
The Lions made a great start, in front of a packed out Copper Cox, with Ladarius Tabb showing off his hustle and energy to score with ten seconds of the contest.
In contrast, the Flyers were cold to start the game, shooting poorly, communicating poorly and rushing their shots early in the clock.
The Flyers, held to just four points in the first five minutes of the contest were forced into calling their first timeout as Paul Guede drained an uncontested three pointer off an inbound play with 1:49 left in quarter one to make it 22-12.
The Flyers ended the quarter on a high with a Jalan McCloud three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to make the score a slightly more respectable 26-18.
Bristol made a stronger start in quarter 2 with two quick fire buckets, but Andre Lockhart was able to fire back with a long two of his own before Jerrelle Okoro was sent to the line and Peel added two more to restore the Lions advantage.
The second quarter saw the Lions rest some starters whilst the Flyers went with their as both sides wrestled for the lead of the game. The Flyers capitalising on a slow scoring stretch as Lewis Champion and Fred Thomas took control on offence for the Flyers, finishing the half with another buzzer beating three to give the Flyers a 39-42 lead at half time.
The third period started with a made technical free throw for the Flyers following a halftime confrontation between Lions coaching staff and the referees as tempers flared at the buzzer.
The Lions bounced back and quickly reasserted their position in control of the game. London, back running their starting unit battled their way to a 63-52 lead heading into the final term. The Lions did a fantastic job sharing the points between the starters with Robinson and Peel both ending with 19 points.
The Flyers were never properly able to rekindle their second quarter performance once the Lions starters were back in, despite battling performances from Fred Thomas and Jalan McCloud, both finishing with 14 points.
The Flyer’s bench combined for 27 points but as a team were never able to build the same scoring runs the Lions were. This was very evident in the second when the game became a scrappy back and forth affair. As is often the case with the Lions, once they work an opponent out, they are happy to trade points with them confident in their own ability to win out in the end. This was the case on Friday.
The Lions ended the game as the Flyers ended both quarters of the first half, with a buzzer beater three from reigning MVP Robinson to cap off a great individual performance that reaffirms his position as one of the top players in the UK. The Lions dominated the final period ending the game 81-68 winners.
Lions Coach Vince Macaulay after the game was happy to win the game and spoke about the adjustments made at halftime, “we’re the top of the table, we’re the ones with the wins, they’ve got a long way to go, let’s play defence … and the rest will take care of itself.”
Flyers Coach Andreas Kapoulas post-game saw the positives despite the loss “There was a lot of effort, a lot of care from our players today. Even though we went down early today we fought back and were able to build a lead and lead at halftime.” “We had eight four-minute battles, we won four of them but those that we lost we lost big.”
Photo Credit: Carol Moir