BBL Play-Offs, quarter-final (2nd leg)
London Lions (207) 99-86 (164) Newcastle Eagles (33-19, 51-46, 75-71)
(Lions: Sharma/Taylor, 18; Hruban, 16; Zubcic, 15– Eagles: Hamlet, 24; Gordon, 19; Defoe, 16)
London Lions advanced to the BBL Play-off, semi-finals thanks to a 99-86 win over the Newcastle Eagles and 207-164 on aggregate at Crystal Palace on Bank Holiday Monday.
A win definitely the most important stat for the champions, but London were made to work hard in the second leg by a determined Eagles side, without Ben Mockford.
London will now get ready to face the Cheshire Phoenix in the semi-finals with Josh Sharma and Jordan Taylor pacing the winners with 18 points each.
Javion Hamlet led all scorers with 24 points for the Eagles with 16 of those coming from the foul line.
From the early going, London were in no mood to let Newcastle back into the tie as a couple of three-pointers from Tomislav Zubcic and Taylor, mixed with a dunk from the latter, handed the hosts a 15-5 advantage.
With the Eagles struggling to get their offence going, London found no issues at their end, with Miye Oni going down the lane for back-to-back dunks as the Lions found themselves 23-8 to the good with a little than three minutes left.
And despite Newcastle getting into a bit of rhythm towards the end of the first, thanks to eight points from Darius Defoe, London were unconscious from the field, shooting 13/17 from the field to lead 33-19 after one.
A monumental task ahead, but the Eagles battled and forced the champions into difficult shots. Even the introduction of Sam Dekker from injury didn’t deter them, as sublime link-up play between David Cohn feeding Justin Gordon narrowed the gap to 40-26 with 6:15 left.
A three-point play from Denzel Ubiaro and a tough floater from Hamlet continued the potent spell from the visitors as they swapped rushed, isolation basketball to patient team play, and it was working.
But the play was scrappy, with technical fouls being called left, right and centre, but come half-time, the Eagles had narrowed the gap on the day, but London were still comfortable overall, taking a 51-46 lead and a 35-point cushion on aggregate.
Showing some vulnerability in the second, London were keen to bounce back as they reverted back to their strengths of quick off-ball movement, ending with the open three in the corner as Vojtech Hruban connected by the Eagles bench followed by Taylor driving the lane for the easy two.
Hruban connected again from almost the same spot with 4:41 remaining in the third to put Lions 66-58 in front as the gap continued to grow.
But Newcastle continued to battle, reducing the deficit on the day to 75-71 but trailing by 34 over the two legs.
And Hamlet took it upon himself to shrink the gap to 78-77 with two minutes played in the fourth as London were guilty of missed opportunities when left open until Luke Nelson broke his scoring duck from the favoured corner for an 81-77 advantage.
They threatened, but Newcastle were never able to gain the advantage as London eventually pulled clear in the second leg to take a hard-fought win over the two ties.