MK LIONS delivered arguably one of their best away performances and results for years on Saturday when they defeated arch rivals Leicester Riders 77-75 on their own patch.
Maintaining their excellent start to 2012, Mike New’s men stunned their hosts who had won two out of their three previous meetings in all competitions this season.
Lions had lost 81-73 and 102-67 on their previous two visits to the John Sandford Centre in BBL Cup and Trophy matches. However, the first Championship meeting of the season went the way of Lions who climbed to a season’s high position of sixth as a result.
Lions’ win was made all the more impressive given Leicester’s superb start to the regular season as they went into the clash with a record of eight wins and one defeat.
But they came unstuck against a ferocious first half Lions display as the visitors raced into a 29-10 lead in the opening period before leading by 10 points at the break, with the hosts unable to sufficiently recover, although they did cause one or two scares late on.
Grabbing their second away win in a row and third of the season, the Lions opened up strongly as despite the first bucket going to the home team, they forced a Riders time out after leading 4-10. Demarius Bold’s nine points in a 16-0 Lions run had the hosts wobbling from the off.
A slam by Daniel Northern served authority around the backboard coupled with terrific blocks from a resurgent Howard Crawford. By the end of the first quarter the home crowd were struck dumb as their side trailed 10-29.
The lead continued to stretch as a barren scoring spell of two and a half minutes saw the scoreboard tick 10-35. Finally Riders got a shot to drop and with the foul count now swiftly rising against Lions 12-2 in the quarter, Leicester eased back into the game to reduce the deficit to 35-45 at the half.
The home run continued in the second half as Nuno Pedroso and Carl Josey got into foul trouble as the Riders closed in, before it was Pedroso who pushed the lead back out as Lions led 56-63 at the end of the third quarter.
The fourth period was tense with both sets of fans getting involved as the teams went toe to toe. Northern was on his way to 18 big rebounds as he marshalled the skies for his side, while Sullivan and Hardy did the same for the Riders.
Twice Leicester cut the deficit to just a basket and at 71-73 the hosts nailed a free throw and a resultant steal led to Rundles handing them their first lead of the game at 75-74 with just 18 seconds to play.
But cool as you like Bolds ran the clock down under 10 seconds and as he drew two men, found Stefan Gill who did the same before coolly slotting a pass to Adrien Sturt in the corner who nailed the winning three pointer with less than a second left.
That cued wild celebrations from Lions players and fans alike. Riders coach Paternostro called a time out, but on the return, Bolds duly stole the inbound pass and Lions claimed a memorable win.
Robert Youngblood returned to Lions after quitting Leicester before the Christmas break, and hauled in seven rebounds on his return, with Sturt getting eight in his support of Northern who finished on 16 points.
But it was Bolds who topped the Lions scores with 19, sending his side to within touching distance of the BBL’s top four. And New’s men now have a fairly favourable run of fixtures, with bottom side Durham Wildcats visiting the Lions Arena on Friday evening before they get back on the road away to Guildford Heat on Sunday. Then follows their BBL Trophy semi final two legs against Plymouth Raiders.
And there will be more fun and games against Leicester before the season is up with another two Championship meetings to come.