FRIDAY night’s BBL Trophy tie with Leicester Riders won’t be a night for the faint-hearted as Lions look to recover from their 81-73 defeat to their bitter rivals.
Lions need to win and overturn an eight-point deficit to stand any chance of avoiding another early exit from the Trophy after bowing out to the same side last season.
Friday’s clash will go a long way to deciding which club progresses to the semi-finals, although which ever team does prevail on the night still needs to see off the third team in the group, London Leopards, to be absolutely sure.
First though Lions must beat a Leicester side who used chief executive Vince Macaulay’s recent comments about them as an extra motivation to win on Saturday.
Macaulay called Riders their ‘B team’ due to the number of former Lions player now on the books of the east Midlands outfit, but the man himself has no regrets and believes Lions can still progress.
“We have Leicester all hot under the collar,” he said. “I understand that they were delighted to pin my comments from last week across their changing room to help them to the win over us, If that’s what they need to get fired up then they will have problems.
“However, I have great respect for coach Rob Paternostro and I’m sure he’s taking everything in the spirit it’s intended – crikey we don’t need him getting any more passionate.
“We now look forward to our first home game and expect another tough encounter as we look to overturn the deficit that would see us practically into the semi-finals.”
The eight-point deficit is a result of Lions’ 81-73 defeat in Leicester on Saturday night, leaving coach Mike New’s men with a difficult, but not impossible task.
Lions scored the first basket of the game through star performer Demarius Bolds after Daniel Northern won the jump ball before Riders got on the scoresheet.
Former Lion Robert Youngblood attempted a score before being blocked by Howard Crawford.
The young Lions matched up well with the veteran Riders as the teams exchanged baskets. But the home side went on an 8-0 run to take the lead before Crawford’s score from inside halted the run.
Lions’ shooting was off all night but Stefan Gill tied the scores at 12 apiece with five minutes of the quarter gone. A 13-4 Leicester run then looked like putting Riders in charge before Crawford was again the man who stopped the run.
Carl Josey and Bolds then both scored as the visitors rallied to haul Riders’ lead back to 27-24 at the end of the first quarter.
The score moved on quickly in the second quarter and when Northern scored for Lions it was 32-29. But then a 6-0 home run saw coach New call a time out.
With his side having a very poor shooting night and the new big men Northern and Crawford adjusting to the pace of the game, New looked to Adrien Sturt and Bolds to steady the ship. Despite a strong end to the quarter from the Riders, Lions rallied and it was only a basket on the buzzer that saw Leicester lead at 48-37.
A scrappy start to the third saw both teams miss shots and turn the ball over way too frequently, but eventually Riders found their range. Sturt then sparked a 15-2 Lions response that wiped out the lead in under four minutes, tying the game at 52-52 with just over four minutes remaining. But the quarter ended again with the Riders easing the lead out to 67-59.
Bolds was his usual unstoppable self but Gill was starting to see his three-point shot drop, and a combined record of one out of 10 for Nuno Pedroso and Sturt from behind the arc meant Lions couldn’t overhaul their hosts and instead the aim was to keep the deficit down to a minimum.
With both teams almost certain to defeat London Leopards, Lions will need to win by at least eight points when the teams go at it again on Friday night at a packed out Lions Arena.
The bad blood between the two clubs should make of a nail-biting and exciting encounter. Tip-off in Winterhill is at 7.30pm and make sure you get in by buying tickets in advance at www.mklions.com