Lions Break D2 Arrows Despite Pre-Game Hurdles
Teesside Lions 76-67 Derbyshire Arrows
Preparations for Lions’ first official competition game in 19 months were thrown a serious wobble when leading pre-season scorer Matt Hughes hadn’t received his international clearance, and then Great Britain Coach Marc Steutel, set to make his competition debut as the new Lions Head Coach, tested positive for Covid 24 hours ahead of the game.
The reigns were handed back to previous Head Coach James Thomson, but he himself had been ill for the previous two weeks with the ‘super-flu’ that has been doing the rounds and was still suffering on the day.
With the excuses already aligning themselves, it would have been easy for the team to crumble under the circumstances, especially facing a team that are one division higher.
Instead, the team galvanised and showed positive energy on and off the court, cheered on by an energetic crowd at Eston Arena and led on the court by a heroic performance from new signing Gregor Gray.
The game began well for Lions, despite Arrows scratching the scoresheet first with two successful free throws from Callum McKenzie. The Lions’ response was convincing as Gray hit a 3 from the corner, followed by strong work inside by Justin Loblack to increase the lead to 4pts. This was followed up with Jack Wilson finishing his own rebound. Derbyshire were struggling to connect and it would take them five minutes to make their first open play basket; a credit to the Lions defence as Tommy Devitt and the ever-present Gray stamped their authority in the backcourt.
A 5-0 run instigated by Joseph Baugh took back a 1pt lead for the visitors but the big presence of 7-foot Theo Turner and slick play from Jack Wilson took back control with a 5pt lead with two minutes remaining.
This cushion would remain at the end of the quarter thanks to another big 3-pointer from Gray.
The second quarter was one to forget for Lions, save a big impact from 18 year old Thomas Wylie as he entered the game with two 3’s to halt, in emphatic fashion, a 7-0 run from the Arrows.
Teesside big men Theo Turner and Justin Loblack both picked up three fouls in the first half which would restrict their ability to feature heavily in the remainder of the game.
While the defence was not terrible during this quarter, aside of the 6pts from Wylie, the Lions only managed two additional points for the entire period. A drought that provided the visitors with a 3pt lead going into half time, 30-33.
In the third quarter Lions regained their scoring touch with Devitt pulling the strings to create good looks. Derbyshire pair Baugh and Hanson-Young combined for 12pts in this period as the lead changed five times to keep the fans on the edge of their seat, finishing as it did 52-49 back in favour of the Lions as Devitt hit 2/3 free throws after being fouled on a buzzer beating half-court shot.
Baugh, McKenzie and Hanson-Young would combine for 16 of their team’s 18pts in what was their highest period score, but despite the threats, it would not be enough as the Teesside defence shown throughout, shifted into another gear. Alex Parr and Tommy Devitt fought for every loose-ball and rebound. Parr hit all nine of his points in the final quarter as he shone brightly in this period.
A 7-1 Lions run in the final two minutes rubber stamped a memorable victory, not just against a team one division higher, not just after 19 months, but also without their leading scorer and Coach Steutel to signify how strong and determined this group of players are.
With impressive individual performances and an even stronger unit mentality Teesside were impressive and worthy winners. The MVP was awarded to Gregor Gray who hit 17pts 11 rebounds & 3 steals in an inspirational debut for the team.
Jack Wilson supported well with 16pts & 9 rebounds while the games top scorer was Arrows’ Jospeh Baugh on 24pts.
Teesside Coach James Thomson was pleased with the result and the determined manner in which the game was won, adding: “We could have lost that game and had a number of justifiable excuses ready to use, but we found a way. We turned a negative into a positive and refused to entertain the idea of losing.
“The team was well prepped by Marc, and while we are not yet as fluent as we need to be, we have shown good character and ability to overcome a strong challenge in playing a team from a higher division under difficult circumstances.”
This result will no doubt give the squad a confidence boost ahead of a big weekend on the 23rd October when Lions travel to Sheffield Elite on Saturday in their first league game, followed by a Sunday trip to Division One high flyers Newcastle University in the third round of the National Cup.
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Teesside Lions v Sheffield Elite II
Sunday 31st October 2.30pm Tip
– Doors open 1.30pm with music, snacks and entertainment.
– Spectators must be seated 30mins prior to tip
– Adult £6.50
– U18 & OAP £4.50
– Family £16 (2 adults & 2 u18)
Tickets must be purchased in advance to allow the club to cater for the attendance in accordance with venue & government covid guidelines.