LIONS chief executive Vince Macaulay says he’s still 100 per cent behind under fire coach Mike New after his side produced their best performance of the season to beat Newcastle Eagles on Wednesday night.
The north east side came to town sitting joint top of the British Basketball League table, but returned home looking unlikely to retain the Championship for a fourth consecutive season as Lions upset the odds to win 83-81.
Lions’ win means Eagles dropped to second place in the standings behind Mersey Tigers who went two points clear after their win against Sheffield Sharks. But more important for New’s men, they did their hopes of making the BBL play-offs the world of good, although they will still need to win their remaining four games to stand any chance of making the top eight.
And that makes Friday night’s home game against Guildford Heat - who currently occupy that last play-off place - a massive one for the club. But whatever happens in the next two weeks, Macaulay says he’s happy with New’s first season as coach.
He said: “I’m still very happy with the performances of the team and the way things are going for the club generally.
“We’ve lost so many games by just a point or two and we’ll just have to win all our games and see what happens.
“As ever we’ll have a look at our options at the end of the season, but it’s been such a hectic year for the club both on and off the court that I don’t think we’ve really seen what the team is capable of. At the moment I don’t see any reason why Mike won’t still be in charge next season.”
Lions were convincingly beaten 99-82 in Newcastle less than a week ago, and Eagles were also winners at Winterhill back in January as Lions went through one of their mid-season slumps that, realistically, ended their play-off hopes.
But even without resurgent point guard Kris Clark, they were able to produce a stunning show to beat an Eagles side who had only lost six times in 27 before their visit.
The visitors struggled all match but led 77-78 with a minute to play before a three-point play from Travis Nelson gave Lions the lead for good. A late Reggie Jackson three gave them some hope, but Yorick Williams hit a free throw in the dying seconds, leaving a length of court attempt from the Eagles as Lions celebrated.
Lions exploded out of the blocks as Eagles quickly found themselves in a 10-3 hole, which became a 22-10 deficit on Stefan Gill’s three. Two Demarius Bold free throws made it 24-12 but Andrew Bridge shaved two points off to get Eagles within 10 at the buzzer.
Newcastle immediately cut Lions’ lead back to six, but the visitors were unable to make any further inroads as Bolds took the margin into double-digits at 42-31. Anthony Haas gave Lions a 13 point lead at 47-34 before Eagles’ Darius Defoe completed the first half scoring by making a free throw.
Eagles had the better of the third quarter and took the lead at 54-58 but Lions responded with a 7-0 run. Nelson and Bolds were causing huge problems for the Eagles but Smith drained a three to level the match at 61-61.
In a nervy final stanza Lions twice led by four but couldn’t pull clear. The game went back and forth with both teams straining to extend their lead.
An Andrew Bridge three put Eagles in front for the last time with just over a minute remaining until Nelson’s and-one wrestled back the advantage to Lions for good.
Gill’s marshalling of Jackson was key in this game and Nelson had nine rebounds to go with his 26 points, whilst Myers led the way with 11 boards.
Macaulay has been keen to praise the efforts of Myers lately as the BBL’s oldest player has been turning on the style, saying: “What he does at 41-years-old is incredible.
“I have to single three guys out as being exceptional this season - Myers, Bolds and Gill, they’ve all been superb and I can’t speak highly enough of them.”
Myers himself was crowned Molten Player of The Month for February, but admitted that it’s been a difficult season for Lions.
“When it comes to winning the award I obviously have to give a lot of credit to the rest of the guys because without them, that wouldn’t have been possible,” he said.
“Overall it’s been a difficult time for the team and especially for the last month. It’s been a case of trying to fit back into things rather than continuing where I left off in February and I don’t know why we lost so many games again.”
“There is one real problem which we have needed to address to get better consistency and that is simply playing better defence.”
“I think we need to do this as a collective because even though we have won some big games we have also lost a lot of close games and something isn’t working for us in that respect.”
“I think most of those close losses, which have probably cost us the chance of the play-offs, were just due to mental errors.”
Lions welcome Heat to Winerhill for a 7.30pm start on Friday night before Sheffield Sharks visit on Sunday at 5pm.