MK LIONS now have one paw in the BBL Trophy semi-finals thanks to a commanding victory against London Leopards on Sunday, and this weekend the Championship season tips-off with a long trip to face Glasgow Rocks.
Lions hammered Division One side Leopards 113-7 at the Lions Arena, just over a week after they beat fierce rivals Leicester Riders to take the driving seat in their Trophy group.
Only a heavy loss in London at the end of the month would now deny the city side a place in the last four – and that looks very unlikely as the season gets into full swing and Lions begin to flex their muscles.
So now, after a highly encouraging start to the new season, Lions can turn their attention to the bread and butter of Championship action, starting up in Scotland on Sunday afternoon.
Rocks look likely to miss out on the Trophy semi-finals after a big defeat to Newcastle Eagles in the northern group but will still present one of the toughest challenges that Mike New’s men could have encountered in their first league game.
But Lions go north full of confidence after two highly impressive Trophy wins following an away defeat to Leicester in their opening group tie. The midlands outfit will get their chance for revenge when the two sides meet again in the BBL Cup next Saturday night, but for now Lions can focus on beginning their Championship campaign by doing what they haven’t done since 2009 – win in Glasgow.
Daniel Northern opened the scoring against London Leopards and Howard Crawford had three scores in a row as Lions leapt out of the blocks.
Vernon Teel was the only scorer for the Leopards in the first seven minutes as he rattled up seven points, but the undersized visitors had no answer to the huge Lions line up. Demarius Bolds got his scoring under way before Stefan Gill landed a three pointer, there was a dunk from Adrien Sturt, and a further nine points from Bolds including back to back three pointers which ended the first quarter 28-14 to the hosts.
The second quarter saw Lions slow down a bit and allow their opponents to drag the game down. Missing their star man Ousman Krubally, London looked to Teel for any offence and he obliged with 26 first half points, but consistent scoring allowed Lions to lead 56-38 at the half.
It was a Crawford dunk and a three from Sturt that gave Lions the impetus they needed to reignite and a further eight from Bolds and Lions were rolling.
But 11 from Teel made sure that Lions had to stay sharp but the inside play of Crawford and Northern was too strong, Northern notching up six blocked shots as a 39 point quarter ended 95-60.
With all the Lions on the scoresheet by the fourth, Carl Josey joined in and Nathan Schall also dunked home, but it was Ishmael Fontaine who brought the house down with seven points at the end. His thunderous one-handed dunk in traffic had everyone on their feet.
The game ended 113-72 with Lions now travelling to Brentwood to face the Leopards again in the last pool game on October 30 – a day after their trip back to Riders.
Victory there will see them proceed to the semi-finals of the Trophy where they will meet one of the three other group winners in a two-legged tie, with Sheffield Sharks, Plymouth Raiders and Newcastle Eagles currently odds on to make it.
Bolds top scored against London on 36 points while Crawford had 19, but it was Teel who led all the scorers with a valiant 43.
Lions chief executive Vince Macaulay singled out both Bolds and Northern in particular for praise, and admitted that his plans to unsettle Leicester worked a treat after the two clubs were embroiled in a war of words before and after their two Trophy games.
“For me, Demarius is already a Most Valuable Player candidate this season,” said Macaulay. “He’s picked up exactly where he left off last season and can be unstoppable at times.
“And Daniel has been in superb form too. We’ve been talking about this team being very athletic and I don’t think we quite realised how athletic he is.
“In fact the same is true of the whole team, including some of the youngsters who got game time against London. It’s really encouraging to see our strength in depth so evident.
“Now we just need to finish the job in London and we’d like to play Sheffield or Newcastle in the semi-finals after we did a job on Leicester.
“The plan was always to get in their heads and it worked a treat. They lost their thought process and in the end couldn’t handle us. They have so many former Lions players and staff that we knew exactly how to handle them.”
>> Four young Lions have undergone gruelling trials to be picked to represent the south at a regional competition next week.
The teenagers attended several trial sessions in Buckinghamshire for the right to be picked to produce a team to represent Bucks, which then travelled to Hampshire for the day to play other counties.
Following these matches a further selection was made of players who were invited to represent the southern region. These trials were over several weeks at five hourly training sessions, and last month the squad was finally reduced to 10, including the four young Lions.
Well done to Aidan McQuillan, Callum Charteris, Victor Smith and Jordan Edgell, pictured below. Congratulations also to Ruchea Walton and Chloe Turner who have been picked for the girls side.