Lions Tame Mohawks In Teesside Derby
TV Mohawks 53-67 Teesside Lions
Teesside Lions flexed their muscle over local rivals Tees Valley Mohawks in the first of three local derby games this season.
The game was predictably an intense affair with both teams eager to gain the local bragging rights.
The previous season saw Mohawks beat Lions at Middlesbrough College, but following an investigation the game was over-turned due to Mohawks playing an ineligible player as they suited up two ‘overseas’ stars when league rules allow only one.
The fixture at Eston Arena finished as a 19pt win for Mohawks over a depleted Lions team as Covid was beginning to emerge, but the 20-0 forfeit favoured a 1pt advantage to Lions in the head-to-head; an overall outcome neither club was content with.
Mohawks new head coach James Nicholson was absent for the latest encounter, meaning Steve Butler was in charge against Lions stellar signing Great Britain Coach Marc Steutel.
The game at the weekend was a coming together of the old versus the new with Mohawks desperate to hold onto their historic status and Lions eager to establish themselves as the new cats on the block.
The game began akin to the OK Corral as 3-point shots were fired and executed first by Mohawks Jai Naylor, then Lions Gregor Gray. Ryan Harris responded with another before Lions Ross Wilson completed the And-1 play to tie the game 6-6.
Naylor was proving effective for Lions as he lined up another 3-pointer followed by a strong finish in the seventh minute. When Acho Anyigbo powered his way to the basket in the eighth minute Lions were now down 15-11.
Thomas Wylie stepped up with a 3-pointer following good offensive movement from the Lions, but again the Mohawks fired back with a 3 of their own through Lee McLaughlin.
Lions held their composure and developed a 7-0 run via Wylie and Turner to take a 3pt lead with less than twenty seconds remaining in the first period. The lead was short lived however as Chris Jones weaved his magic to ensure Mohawks regained the tightest of leads 22-21 at the end of the first quarter.
American Chris Jones, a former BBL star was instrumental in the vast majority of Mohawks play, like a puppet master he pulled the strings at both ends of the court making all players around him better. His only downfall was a lack of composure as he collected early fouls and whether a lack of control or coaching error in not taking him out of the game was to blame, this would prove critically decisive later in the game.
Naylor and Jones continued well for the hosts as they developed a 4pt lead in the first minute of the second quarter, all points coming by free throws. In the second minute Lions Ross Wilson responded with two free throws and a well-timed rebound and put-back to tie the game once again 25-25. The game was actually tied 8 times with 12 lead changes.
The Lions, who were composed throughout the game under the guidance of Coach Steutel, were now beginning to build momentum as they maintained course. By the eight minute a brace of 3’s from Devitt and the 19 year old star Tom Wylie provided breathing room for Lions. Wylie adding to this with an assist to big Theo Turner to extend the gap 28-35.
Two free throws from Jones in the remaining embers of the first half would result in a half time score of 30-35 in favour of the visiting Lions, with all still to play for.
In the third quarter Jones levelled up his scoring, especially after losing captain Anyigbo who fouled out following a jersey pull on Turner and a technical foul which was uncharacteristic of the Mohawks veteran. Jones hit 10pts including a buzzer beating 3 from near half court to regain the lead by 1pt, 43-44.
It was an exciting finish to the third and should have provided fuel to the Mohawks momentum, but in the third minute of the final quarter Jones would prove his individual value and Mohawks reliance upon him, by fouling out the game following a push on Lions Jack Wilson.
The omission of Jones resulted in Lions producing a 21-2 run as they crushed Mohawks hopes of winning the game in dramatic fashion.
The game had everything a local derby should and while Lions always looked more likely to win, the Jones factor was a genuine threat. The battle of coaches was won by Coach Steutel and the depth of Lions squad delivered good team basketball and ensured they were never heavily reliant upon any one player.
Among the MVP considerations, Ross Wilson delivered an epic performance for Lions with 10pts, 8 rebounds & 5 assists which on any normal day would have secured the accolades, but a stand-out performance from Tom Wylie who hit 19pts, 8 rebounds & 3 assists earned the derby MVP.
Wylie is progressing into one of the leagues best players and at 19 years of age his development at Teesside in such a short space of time has been emphatic.
Lions other contender for the award actually had the highest efficiency rating with 23. Theo Turner collected a 13pts & 13 rebounds double-double.
Mohawks: Jones 17, Naylor 14, Harris 7
Lions: Wylie 19, Turner 13, Wilson J 11, Wilson R 10, Devitt 8
The next opportunity to see the Lions in action is this Sunday as Teesside welcome Calderdale Explorers back to the Eston Arena for the final game of 2021 in what is expected to be a Christmas Cracker!
Spectators are requested to wear face masks in and around the venue, in accordance with new Government guidance.