MK LIONS grabbed their first BBL Championship win of the season on Sunday when they beat Guildford Heat – but only after losing for the second time at Newcastle Eagles on Friday.
With a BBL Trophy semi-final now safely in the bag until the new year, Lions can focus all their efforts on the regular league season, and got their opening win 98-82 against a Guildford side who have now lost all five of their games so far this term.
But that impressive performance only came after defeat in the north east, although they did give Eagles a few scares en route to a 100-88 win.
Despite their recent run of poor away performances, Lions produced an encouraging display and started very brightly at Sport Central.
They kept pace with the hosts for the most part and in an entertaining first quarter were unlucky to find themselves 27-25 behind. Key to the visitors keeping up with Eagles were the respective great performances of both Demarius Bolds and Howard Crawford who shared 16 points in the period.
However, things quickly unravelled at the start of the second period as Eagles went into overdrive with Joe Chapman starting to find his range. He helped his team post a 17-4 run which took Eagles into a double digit lead.
The shooter poured in 15 points during the quarter as his team left the floor at the interval 55-45 ahead, and they seemed to be out of sight until Lions came out roaring at the start of the second half.
Mike New’s men scored 10 of the first 11 points to get within a point and cause Eagles to sweat and call a time-out in a bid to stop the rot. And they answered in fine style with nine unanswered points to re-establish control, but again Lions wouldn’t lie down.
They worked tirelessly – Crawford, Bolds and Daniel Northern leading the way with their impressive efforts as they cut the arrears in half, down to just five points at 74-69 going into the final quarter.
Unfortunately for coach New, the lead was soon back to double figures inside the first two minutes of the fourth, although hope remained with the Eagles in foul trouble as Andy Thomson and Fab Flournoy skated the thin ice of playing on four fouls.
Lions continued to hang around and had home nerves shredded as they made it a one-shot game with just under two minutes to play. But Eagles held their nerve to seal the victory and take top spot in the BBL table with four wins in four.
Crawford top scored in the game with 25 points, while both Bolds and Northern had stellar double-doubles, the former with a total of 22 points and 14 rebounds while the latter had 15 points and 18 rebounds.
After losing their previous away games at Glasgow and Leicester, it was a much improved performance on the road, and they were able to carry that momentum into Sunday’s game against Guildford at a sold out Lions Arena.
Bolds was in imperious form with a game-high 37 points as he shot 14 of 22 from the field, including four of eight three-pointers.
Lions held a double-digit lead for virtually all of the last three quarters after a decisive burst to open the second period put them firmly in charge.
Heat began well though and they opened up with an 8-13 lead on Tayo Ogedengbe’s three before four quick points from Lions trimmed the gap back to one. A 5-0 burst gave Heat their largest lead of the first period at 12-18 before Lions ended the quarter on a 7-2 tear to again close within a point at 19-20 as a Nuno Pedroso three pointer sparked the run.
The teams exploded into life after the break, combining for 56 points, but it was Lions who had the best of things as they built up an 11 point lead by half time (53-42).
An 11-0 gave Lions a 34-24 lead with just two minutes of the second quarter played, and a Bolds three made it 37-24 just a minute later.
Heat worked hard to reduce the deficit to 44-39, but a 9-3 burst up to the half time break put New’s team in control.
The third quarter saw fouls mount up for Lions though as Northern and Crawford raked them up, leaving Gill to marshall the line well whilst Adrien Sturt also contributed.
A dunk from Crawford and a Bolds two gave Lions their biggest lead of the night with just less than two minutes to play in the third period at 75-56, on their way to taking a 74-61 advantage into the final stanza.
In the fourth quarter, Heat briefly trimmed the gap to nine (78-69) on Ogedengbe’s free throw, but Lions went on an 11-2 tear to put the game beyond their visitors. Nathan Schall rose for a spectacular tip in while two rim rocking dunks from Sturt put the exclamation on Lions’ win.
Lions have the weekend off before a long trip to Plymouth Raiders next Wednesday night. Their first victory of the season leaves them seventh in the Championship table, but with games played ranging from one to five, it will be a long while yet before the league starts to take shape.
But if New’s men can repeat the sort of form they produced over the weekend, then there’s every chance that they will be found sitting higher than seventh in the standings in the weeks and months ahead.