The London Lions fell short to the Newcastle Eagles 80-87 in the first leg of the semi-final in the BBL Cup on Sunday afternoon at the Copper Box.
Rahmon Fletcher and Deandre Parks combined for 42 points to enable the Eagles to walk away victorious.
The Eagles had travelled to East London in search of victory just like they did in early November when they won 81-88 in the League. They found victory once again in similar fashion with another seven-point margin despite Rashad Hassan’s valiant efforts.
Hassan, who was named Player of the Month once again last week, added 30 points in another routinely dominant performance in the paint. But his efforts were ultimately in vain as his club succumbed to the industrious efforts of this impressive Eagles side that continues to impress in the League.
The Eagles started off on fire; after an early shooting display from Fabulous Fournouy and Rahmon Fletcher, the Northern side led 11-23 after the first quarter.
Despite Hassan’s dominance inside, the Eagles continued to develop and keep their healthy lead well into the second half, running away with a 38-51 score.
The Lions Head coach Nigel Lloyd knew his players had more to offer but conceded that Newcastle are one of the strongest teams in the league.
“I don’t think we played to our full potential. Newcastle are one of the biggest teams in the league, they proved it here today and on Friday. It’s disappointing because I thought we could’ve played a little better and I thought we were better than the 7-point gap suggests.
“I’m disappointed with the outcome but not our efforts, I thought we played with our hearts not our heads.”
Coach Lloyd’s side knew that the third quarter would be vital, and luckily he got a reaction from his players. The Lions stormed back out onto the court and instantly began probing at the Eagles’ lead which would eventually be cut down.
Thanks to an explosive third quarter from Hassan and Zaire Taylor pulling the strings, the Lions ended the third quarter trailing by four points, 64-68.
Continuing their streak into the fourth quarter, the Lions eventually tied the game before they exploded to gain a lead, 71-70. However, it was short lived; the Eagles woke up again and last season’s MVP Fletcher rallied his team back into the lead. Newcastle eventually held off for an important first leg 80-87 win.
The Lions will travel to Newcastle this week for an important second-leg tie on Friday, but coach Lloyd believes his side are capable of overcoming the odds:
“The good news is we’ve beaten them on their own court before. So, in our heads we’re not scared of playing them there. We’re seven points down so if we try take each quarter with a two-point lead we can win it and get to the final, so that’s what we need to try do.”
The Lions will play other top contenders Leicester Riders on the road, five days after battling for a place in the BBL Cup final at Birmingham. They will be looking to add another W to their record in both the Cup run and the Championship league.