LIONS can still reach the British Basketball League play-offs, but it will take something spectacular for them to do it after a weekend which saw them lose their 10th game in 11.
Newcastle Eagles were the side to inflict that unwanted milestone on Mike New’s men on Friday night as the joint championship leaders won 99-82 on Tyneside. But Lions did at least bounce back with victory over Leicester Riders on Sunday to keep their slim hopes of making the top eight alive.
That 99-98 defeat of Riders means Lions can make the play-offs if they win all their remaining games and other results go their way, but that is looking increasingly unlikely.
Four of their final five games are at home, and if New’s men are able to repeat their performance against Riders at Winterhill then they will at least stand a chance of keeping their end of the bargain.
In a pulsating game the Midlands side were brought crashing back to earth after they had beaten Mersey Tigers - level point on points with Newcastle - earlier in the week, but they obviously hadn’t expected yet another masterclass performance from Lions’ Demarius Bolds.
He bagged 25 of his side’s points, including what proved the winner, leaving Riders just 2.5 seconds to find a response to no avail.
The Riders had the better of the early exchanges - Ryan Zamroz hit from deep and James Whyte’s three made the score 13-28 late in the first quarter. However, Lions clawed the visitors back to 22-31 as Lawrence Brown and Connor Washington led the charge to the end of the quarter assisted by three point bombs from Yorick Williams.
Things tightened to 37-37 during the second period - Anthony Haase and Travis Nelson scoring inside as Bolds continued with his drives to the basket.
But Riders lost captain Lataryl Williams to a nasty knee injury in that session and he had to be taken to hospital as Lions kept their run going to lead at 58-50, until a Tony Windless three from just inside his half sent the teams into the break with the home side 58-53 ahead.
The third quarter then saw a fine spell from JR Blount who managed to keep Lions from running wild in the first few minutes as Nelson hit form despite mounting foul trouble and Stefan Gill imposed himself on proceedings to leave the score tied on 77 apiece.
Riders twice led by four points in the final stanza, but each time the Lions would not step back - a dunk by Nelson and a spinning move off Bolds and it was tight again.
Riders then led by four when Gill sank a three, then a foul was called on Haase sending Jo Harris to the line where he made two free throws to give his team a 98-97 lead with 16 seconds remaining.
However, Bolds had the last word to give his team a dramatic victory with a spinning move to the basket, and there was no time for Riders to hit back.
Bolds ended with a double double of 25 points and 12 rebounds as well as four steals, as Shawn Myers had 15 points and nine rebounds. There were also 17 points for Gill, but JR Blount led all scorers as he carried Riders with 32 points.
That success came 48 hours after Eagles had beaten Lions for a third time this season to make it 10 from 11 for New’s men. Bolds managed a scorching 29 points whilst teenager Washington produced easily one of his best displays for the club with a 10 point and six rebound effort.
Eagles’ backcourt pairing of Trey Moore - with 23 points - and Reggie Jackson, who scored 19 points and seven assists led the way for Eagles to move back joint top of the table as they led from the outset.
They were soon 9-2 to the good as Jackson hit a triple and consecutive Darius Defore baskets made it 13-4 before Lions even got going. Bolds brought Lions back into it and his three-pointer actually made it a one possession game at 18-15 with two minutes to play in the period, but Eagles maintained a 25-19 edge.
The hosts quickly restored their double-digit advantage early in the second, and it was 36-22 as Jackson made another three, and 40-22 when his backcourt partner Moore scored consecutive baskets - a 15-3 start to the period for Eagles.
The lead soon went through the 20 mark, leaving the visitors out of sorts and leading to New trying to calm his side down with a time out before Bolds brought them back in contention as he sank six in an 8-2 burst just before the half, making it 53-37.
Eagles enjoyed a 6-2 spell early in the third period and it became 62-43 on Moore’s three-pointer. A 7-2 run, including five for Kris Clark, meant Lions stayed in touch, although the quarter ended at 70-62 to Eagles.
But just as Lions were getting to within striking distance, Bolds was called for his fourth foul and it cost his side dear as they succumbed to Eagles in the final 10 minutes.