London Lions made it back-to-back wins this weekend after their 86-76 victory over an injury-hit Cheshire Phoenix side at the Northgate Arena on Sunday evening in the BBL Championship.
Gerald Robinson and Dominique Coleman were out with knocks picked up in the close defeat to Leicester Riders on Saturday night, leaving head coach John Lavery to rely upon a starting five to play a full forty minutes.
It was once more a slow start for the Phoenix as Vince Macaulay’s men made an early 7-0 run, however, the home side hit back going 8-2 with some hard work from Victor Moses. Nick Freer, off the bench for Lions, turned it on from outside the arc and found his range on the way to a 17-21 lead in the first quarter.
Stretching over the break, a 13-1 run by the Lions put them in full control as Laurent Irish made the difference inside with some strong direct plays to the basket. At the opposite end, Ben Smith was also key as he made Once more, Phoenix put together their own effective 13-3 spell, only to be thwarted by
Coming out after half time, Lavery’s team took their time moving through the gears, as Lions reached a game high lead of 17 points, thanks to Smith off the boards. As was the script for the night, 11 unanswered points on the board for the home side as they looked to get themselves back into the game, capped off by Kai Williams’ effort from downtown. Lions finished the quarter more positively, as Freer and Smith helped restore a ten point lead, 51-61.
There was hope from the home crowd that a comeback could be on the cards, but hampered by injuries to their bench, it was a tough ask. It did prove decisive as well, as there was never any ability to freshen up the Phoenix play with no real option off the bench; the shortest lead Lions had in the final period was by eight, and as the game drew to a close, Nick Freer bagged the last points to end matters at 76-86.
After the game, the victorious Macaulay was pleased with how his side worked within their own means against the depleted Cheshire side: “We came out and did a professional job on them; they were a little short-handed today, and when that happens it changes the balance of things. As it is, they are not that deep and were short of substitutions, so it give them more freedom in order to play us, but we try and play with a structure and it was important that we did that, which we did, and got the win.”
Speaking of the efforts from the bench by their top scorer Nick Freer (20 points on the night), Macaulay is confident of things to come from his team: “Nick is a great player, and this is a good league for his talents, and Ben Smith had 13 points and 13 rebounds – we’re going to be a team that comes to work and does whatever it takes to win.”
The Lions’ head coach also was quick to point out how dangerous Cheshire can be for sides in the BBL with their recent outings proving they will run sides close: “This is a good team, don’t get that twisted; they have Kai Williams, Devan Bailey, quality in their American players – and I don’t think you’re going to see a better rebounder this season than Victor Moses; they don’t deserve the record they have at this moment.”
Phoenix’s Lavery was unsure how to judge whether it was one his side let get away, or one they deserved to lose.
“At this moment in time, I don’t honestly know, it’s hard to see, you could probably say both,” said Cheshire’s head coach. “We’re a team, whatever unit we put out on the floor have got to go out and compete.”
Lavery was pleased with his players’ workrate, as there was yet another double-double for Victor Moses (24pts, 18 rbs – 11 of those were offensive boards), and collectively seven blocks from his team mates, but would have much preferred to be at full strength on the night.
“We go down to Leicester, one point down with four minutes to go, we’re in the ball game, Last week we lose to Sheffield, top of the league, by six, and then we come here tonight we two starters missing – it’s going to be tough, but the guys who are out there did a good job.”
Cheshire Phoenix: Victor Moses again stood out with a fantastic double-double performance, working hard inside to collect vital points from the boards to keep Cheshire in the game. If he isn’t featured again on the BBL Team of the Week list, many would be shocked.
London Lions: Rod Brown made a claim for it, but Nick Freer’s points off the bench rattled Phoenix all night and his shooting percentage was decisive, 62% overall but four-from-six was a great return in a side that rotated well for forty minutes.
Cheshire Phoenix at home to Durham Wildcats, Sunday 17th November, 5:30pm, Northgate Arena
London Lions at home to Sheffield Sharks, Friday 15th November, 7:30pm, Copper Box Arena