Lions must win BBL play-off title, declares Macaulay

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MK LIONS chief executive Vince Macaulay says the only way the club’s season can be considered a success is by winning the British Basketball League play-offs.

After a seven-game losing streak going back to the start of February, Lions bounced back on Sunday by beating Mersey Tigers 81-78 to help cement their top eight place.

The club’s awful run began with their BBL Trophy semi final defeat to Plymouth Raiders and saw them slip from being top four contenders to be in serious danger of not even making the play-offs.

But despite a difficult run of fixtures coming up over the next three weeks that are likely to once again test the club’s play-off potential, Macaulay has declared that the only way Lions can consider the season a success is if they actually win the end of season competition.

“We need to win something, and the only thing left for us to win is the play-offs – so that’s what we’ll be trying to do,” he said.

“Defeat at home to Mersey would have been a disaster, but in the end we got what we deserved. If we can beat Cheshire Jets in a few weeks I think we’ll be sure of the play-offs, but we’ve got some hard games.”

Sheffield Sharks visit the Lions Arena on Sunday afternoon before the city side visit Leicester Riders and Newcastle Eagles who appear on course for a fourth league win in five years.

With the play-off system pairing the eighth placed team against the Championship winners, Lions will need to put a run of wins together to avoid a quarter final trip to the north east.

Macaulay admits that he would like to avoid Eagles if possible, but also believes his side can beat the very best sides on their day.

“We’ll need to beat the big teams if we’re going to win the play-offs,” he said. “We have played well against Newcastle this season, but no-one wants to make that trip if they can avoid it.

“We have a team capable of great things but of course we need to win something.”

Macaulay hasn’t lifted a piece of silverware since Lions beat Eagles to claim the BBL Cup in 2008 – the same year they finished as runners up in the play-offs after losing out to Guildford Heat in the final.

Hopes were high that this season would change all that, but despite a good run in the Trophy, Lions have disappointed – winning only eight of their 22 league games. Macaulay has put that down to the weight of expectation put on the side.

He said: “There was massive expectation from everyone – other clubs, the fans, and the players themselves had great expectations.

“Maybe we didn’t quite know how to deal with that. But this is a fantastic team and we still have a chance to win something.”

Coach Mike New is in his second full season of leading the club on the court and Macaulay says he has no qualms with the job he has done so far, but that he will assess the situation again at the end of the campaign.

Sunday’s win against Mersey Tigers helped to relieve the pressure on everyone involved at the Lions Arena – but only after an extremely nervy performance that saw them trail for the majority of the game – by 18 points at one stage – before producing a storming fourth quarter fightback to win by three points.

Both sides traded baskets in the early stages of the game, but it was the Tigers who made the first break of the contest thanks to a 14-4 burst, including six points from Sam Cricelli to take the score out to 12-22 midway through the opening period.

That left Lions a little bit shell-shocked – an Adrien Sturt three-pointer pulled them back to within seven points at 17-24, but the north west side were able to maintain their advantage with the opening period drawing to a close – leading by nine at 20-29.

Lions got themselves to within six points at 27-33 at the start of the second quarter thanks to a Stefan Gill basket, but that was as close as the home side would get in the remainder of the first half as Tigers steadily increased their lead, extending it out to 16 points at 35-51 thanks to back-to-back three-point sinks from Antonio Bustamante and David Aliu,

Lions bagged the final three points of the half to trail 38-51 heading into the locker rooms with what looked a mountain to climb.

Lions again traded baskets with the visitors at the start of the second half as the Tigers opened up their biggest lead of the game at 44-62 thanks to another Bustamante three-pointer – and there was no sign that Lions would be able to hold them to just 27 second half points.

However, despite the deficit, the home side got themselves right back into the contest thanks to a 15-4 tear as Justin Dobbins found a way around the larger Mo Williams and Demarius Bolds began to work his magic.

The third quarter buzzer had Lions trailing by just seven points at 59-66 heading into the final stanza – and it was to be quite a finish.

Lions continued to close the deficit throughout the majority of the quarter as the defensive effort started to reap dividends, Daniel Northern’s shot blocking and the aggressive rebounding of Adrien Sturt – coupled with 10 points from Bolds down the stretch – helped them reduce the gap to just a single point at 77-78 with 7.5 seconds remaining.

An unsportsmanlike foul called on the Tigers’ Devan Bailey sent Bolds to the line and he held his nerve to send Lions into a 79-78 lead. Tigers had to foul on the ensuing inbound and sent Gill to the line where he netted both of his shots to give the home side an 81-78 lead, with no times for Tigers to come back.

After seeing Lions hold Tigers to just 15 third period points and 12 in the fourth, Macaulay was keen to praise the defensive efforts of the team, particularly Sturt who rebounded brilliantly and also netted 19 points. And he also paid tribute to Lions’ fans for their support over recent weeks.

“Winning was a massive relief,” said Macaulay. “We did to Mersey what other sides have done to us during our bad run. But now we want to make sure we put a winning run together.

“Our worst two performances of the season have been against Sheffield and that will be part of the team-talk on Sunday. The fans have begun to realise their support really does play a big part in the outcome and we’ll need them again.”