|Teesside Lions Men
LIONS LOSE IN TITANIC THRILLER
Teesside Lions MenV
Sunday 7th January|
By Jordan Clarke
Teesside Lions suffered a nail-biting defeat in their 2024 opener at the hands of Northamptonshire Titans.
Two new faces made their debut for the Lions, with Jamie Glen and Faaris Mughal putting on a red shirt for the first time, as well as Emmanuel Kabengele making his return to Teesside following a short stint at Team Sunderland.
For the majority of the game Teesside were in control and will be bitterly disappointed to have not seen it through. Teesside started on top through the energetic efforts of American Tom Horvat and Mughal.
In the sixth minute Tom Wylie entered the game and delivered an immediate impact as he converted a close-finish under the basket then followed up with a brace of 3’s to energise the team and crowd.
Northamptonshire were a constant threat especially through Hayden Alcindor and big man Abdul Amonayajo, but they were guilty of a lack of control as they made multiple mistakes and committed too many fouls.
For swathes of the first period the visitors were exposing weaknesses in the home defence which would hurt Teesside down the line.
A relatively high scoring first quarter favoured the hosts with a slender 3pt lead; 22-19.
The Lions produced a good run to open the second quarter, utilising ball movement and getting out quickly in transition which led to easy points at the rim.
Faaris Mughal found his groove in the second quarter, scoring six points in quick fashion.
The Titans however refused to buckle and 11pts from Alcindor kept them on the heels of Lions.
Teesside were on fire from the perimeter with four 3’s from Mughal, Mitchell and a pair from Aaron Maxwell to amass their highest period score of the game at 23.
As half time approached, Titans were gaining momentum and the story could have been different if not for a huge block from Kabengele to deny Davillar as he was pinned against the glass, allowing Teesside to covet a 5pt cushion heading into half time, 45-40.
Northamptonshire entered the third quarter with a much more determined mentality. Their defence was improving and Teesside were struggling to find the target. It was the turn of Amonyajo to step up as he hit 8pts in this quarter alone. Alex Wilson and Davillar hit a 3-pointer apiece in the remaining three minutes to wound Teesside and outscore them 13-24 in the third to take a 6pt lead into the final quarter, their biggest of the game.
Unfortunately for Teesside, the final period followed the trend of the third and the Lions struggled to regain momentum. In the sixth minute Teesside gradually clawed their way back into the game which generated a pulsating atmosphere from the Lions fans. Luke Mitchell showed his composure at the free throw line to chip away at the Titans lead, and Jamie Glen hit some big shots at crucial points. Despite this resurgence there was still something not right and a leaky defence was hurting Teesside.
It would require something spectacular and The Lions almost delivered this with an heroic flurry of plays at both ends of the court from Kabengele to bring the game to within 1pt following a big 3-pointer from Glen in the final minute.
While this brought the fans to their feet as they roared the team forward with everything they had, the stubborn combination of Titans’ Alcindor and Lawrence Gaston to hit 7pts in the last two minutes denied the home team the success of what was a thrilling finish.
Teesside won all three quarters with the exception of the third period. A 4pt loss will be a bitter pill for the Lions to swallow, especially at home, but there were promising periods of the game and lots to look forward to. Even the faults of sloppy defence and at times poor shot/pass selection are identifiable and should improve with the development of chemistry that will evolve over the next few games.
Coaches Bojev and Thomson will be hoping this improvement is sooner than later as they hope to get their season back on track.
The MVP today was awarded to Manny Kabengele who produced significant plays at both ends of the court at critical moments.
Next weekend sees the Lions make the long trip down to Bristol for a weekend double-header against Bristol United on Saturday and Bristol Flyers on Sunday.
Teesside: Horvat 20, Glen 14, Maxwell 11, Mitchell 10, Mughal 9
Titans: Alcindor 28, Omonayajo 17, Wilson 14, Davillar 9