Lions riding their luck in play-off push

LIONS can still make the British Basketball League play-offs, but will need to reproduce the level of performance they showed on Tuesday night in the remainder of their games to make it.

Mike New’s men beat Leicester Riders 102-97 at the Lions Arena, taking the pressure off the coach after seven defeats on the bounce had left them with a mountain to climb to make the top eight.

The last of those came away at Worthing Thunder on Sunday as Lions were embarrassed at losing out to one of the BBL’s whipping boys for the second time this year - Thunder have only won three all season.

However, after hitting that new low on Friday, Lions were able to bounce back and beat Riders in a game they simply had to win. The odds are still stacked against the city side making it - especially as their next three games are away against tough opposition - but at least they still have something to play for ahead of a tough run of fixtures - for the time being.

The main body of the story on Tuesday night was a familiar one for Lions after being involved in yet another nail-biting encounter, but this time there was a happy ending for New and his team as they finally ended their dreadful run going back to mid-February.

It was a scintillating game for everyone inside the Lions Arena with some remarkable perimeter shooting as the two sides netted a combined 21 three-pointers in a real shoot-out of a contest.

BBL Player of the Month for February, Shawn Myers, was on song again for Lions with a great 22 points and 14 rebounds, while Robert Youngblood returned to face his former club and notched up 22 points of his own, but fell short of getting one over on the club that released him earlier in the season.

This was despite Ryan Zamroz stepping up manfully for Riders who were missing on-court leader JR Blount. Zamroz took over the mantle of Riders’ playmaker in the surprise absence of his usual backcourt partner, and although disappointed at losing, finished with a sublime double-double of 25 points and 12 assists.

Their win keeps Lions’ slender hopes of a play-off berth alive for another week, while Riders drop to share eighth with Guildford Heat, and New’s men now know what they have to do - win more of less every remaining game.

That’s a huge feat for a side not used to winning away from home in recent seasons, and if Sunday’s defeat at Worthing is repeated at Plymouth Raiders this Saturday, then Lions can almost certainly kiss the top eight goodbye.

Myers got the scoring going for Lions, but Sherrad Prezzie-Blue opened up his account for the hosts with a triple as Thunder proceeded to score seven of the first nine points in the game.

Lions gradually came alive and posted a 16-7 burst to move ahead and cause Thunder’s coach Gary Smith to call a time-out, perhaps in a bid to advise his side how to handle Travis Nelson who helped Lions stay in touch with 11 points and four rebounds inside the first eight minutes.

It certainly worked as Marlin Capers scored five points in the last minute either side of a Lions basket from Myers to ensure the visitors only led 22-20 after the first period.

Stefan Gill was impressing for Lions and he converted his third triple of the game before Yorick Williams also got in on the act to help Lions nudge in front - 46-43 at the interval.

The visitors extended their lead through Nelson, before Worthing cut the gap down to four points after good work inside by Shaun Durant and Cleve Woodfork, but there was no stopping Nelson who again kept Thunder at bay with another couple of scores.

Lions led 67-58 going into the last 10 minutes and seemed to be comfortable until the hosts got to within five points with a 7-3 run.

Williams sunk another triple and when Gill repeated the feat shortly afterwards, it was back to a double digit lead and Thunder had a mountain to climb - but they did that just.

With Demarius Bolds having fouled out and Chris Clarke then getting injured, Lions were left to try and hang on. They couldn’t do that though and Prezzie-Blue saw Thunder tie the game in the final seconds.

It was all down to overtime and after Lions’ Connor Washington hit one of two free-throws to put his side up two points with just 21 seconds left, Thunder’s Adam Williams won the game for the hosts from the three-throw line.

The loss was particularly harsh on Lions center Travis Nelson as he posted a huge double-double of 31 points and 14 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to halt Lions’ slide.

Trips to Plymouth, Sheffield and Newcastle await Lions before they return home to face Riders again on March 27 - by which time their play-off charge will be either alive and kicking or completely over. Tip-off in Devon on Sunday is at 7.30pm.