Worcester Wolves will be delighted to have come away from the first half of a challenging quarter-final playoff tie against London Lions with a 92-78 advantage to take into the return leg at the University of Worcester Arena this Sunday.
In Friday’s first leg, at London’s Copper Box Arena, the Wolves dominated early, roaring into a 35-14 first quarter lead, only to see the gap closed right back to 66-63 by late in the third quarter of the contest. In the final period Wolves were once more able to put their foot on the gas, re-instating a healthy cushion.
On Worcester’s first possession of the evening a long-distance attempt from Will Creekmore went awry, but Kalil Irving was quick to grab the rebound, allowing Alex Owumi to succeed with a triple. Stefan Djukic notched Wolves’ next basket, setting off on an impressive run of first-quarter scoring. By six minutes played he had converted a further four times, aiding his side to surge ahead at 21-6, prompting an urgent Lions time out.
As the initial quarter wound down, Djukic had already accumulated 13 points. When Jamal Williams rose from the bench to contribute five swift points, it looked as if a rout could be on the cards.
However, Lions’ also had a one-quarter-wonder of their own, who then came to the fore, British guard Perry Lawson. In the opening four minutes of the second period, Lawson tallied eight points while Worcester were held to just half that total across their whole team. By half-time the visitor’s lead had been pegged back to 49-39.
Just as Lawson had stepped up before the break, so did his team mate Joseph Ikhinmwin after the interval. Seven points from Ikhinmwin helped keep his side in touch at 56-46, and a basket from veteran forward Julius Joseph finally brought the deficit into single figures. Entering the last two minutes off the third period a Joseph three-pointer brought matters to 66-63, before a burst of scoring from Wolves’ point guard Zaire Taylor restored calm at 75-66.
Neither side was able to significantly affect the gap between the teams until the night’s final couple of minutes. At a minute and a half left the score stood at 88-78. Taylor sank two free throws, and on the next London possession intercepted an errant pass. Setting off towards the hoop he was fouled by his trailing opponent Chez Marks to thereby gain another trip to the free throw line, where he was able to widen the Worcester lead to 92-78.
Coach Paul James commented afterwards: “It was a good win, though I think we made things harder than we should have done. Even when they came back at us, I always felt we were in control.”
Looking ahead to Sunday’s home leg at the University of Worcester Arena, James added: “A 14-point lead is not insurmountable. We will need to stay on our game and finish the job.”
Taylor led the Worcester scoring with 22 points, followed by Owumi and Creekmore with 16 and 14 points respectively. Rod Brown top-scored for London with 23 points.