Teesside Lions opened their home debut in the National Basketball League with a dominant and well deserved 21pt victory over Liverpool at Eston Leisure Centre.

The home side stamped an early authority on to the game with Joe Lister hitting two 3-pointers mid way through the first quarter to take a 6pt lead, which developed further on the back of a 8-1 run instigated by Paul Hartley and rounded off by Ross Leckenby; both players enjoying their league debuts for Teesside.

The first six minutes of the second quarter witnessed a trading of blows from both sides. Chris Jackman was good value for Lions with 5pts and the introduction of 15 year old Joshua Thomson continued to pay dividends as he followed on from his previous game with a good defence and a nice drive in the fourth minute. In the final four minutes of the half however, Liverpool showed they would be no pushovers and built a 10-0 run to reduce the gap to 34-26 at the half time buzzer.

Lister and Patrick Gnagbo combined well in the third quarter and Manny Popoola was proving dominant on the defensive rebounds. The strong guard hit an effortless 3-pointer in the fourth minute but it was Liverpool who were biting at the ankles.

Strong play from James Griffiths and Joe Parkinson brought them to within 5pts and a sense of switching momentum was detected, spurring Lions into a Time-Out.

On the return the threat was short lived as Lions produced some of their best rotations of the game resulting in another two 3’s from Lister and Anthony Reed to restore a 10pt margin. Popoola and Reed finished the quarter well with another 4pts a piece to enter the final period in front 61-46.

Crucially Teesside responded well to poor periods of play in the second and third quarters and despite a few nervous moments, the hosts maintained a cool persona. A barrage of 3-pointers from Lions secured 15pts from the perimeter alone. Martin Fell getting in on the act in the eighth minute following a lovely assist from Lister. The effective Teesside defence had taken the wind out of Liverpool’s sails and an And 1 play by Gnagbo was fully converted to push Lions in front by 21pts and finish off the game.

Coach James Thomson was upbeat following the result and suggested there was more to come from the new look Lions, stating:

“It wasn’t a perfect game, but we controlled the majority of play and responded well to challenges Liverpool presented. Parkinson was a big threat as was Griffiths but I believe we handled them well. I was really pleased with Ross (Leckenby) and Anthony (Reed) and you only have to look at every player marking the scoresheet to see we have an abundance of talented players with so much more to give over the coming season.”

All ten Lions scored in the game with six collecting 7+pts. Lions were dominant in terms of team efficiency with a rating of 111 to Liverpool’s 45. Teesside also showed how well they moved the ball at times and how unselfish their play was with nine players providing assists including an impressive 5 each for Fell, Devitt and Gnagbo on their way to a team total of 26 to Liverpool’s 15.

Lions also dominated the rebounds with 61-30. Popoola (15) and Gnagbo (13) leading the way. The one area identified for improvement was turnovers and the 28 Lions turnovers to Liverpool’s 15 did not make for great reading, but does show room for improvement.

Player/Coach Paul Hartley highlighted the turnovers as characteristic of a new team, but that it must not become a problem.

“26 turnovers is more than enough to lose a game and it’s a stat we are certainly not proud of. However for a new team, we are going to take time to gel and we pulled through by being dominant in many other areas which is pleasing. I am actually looking forward to seeing this group of players develop as on early evidence and with a few improvements the potential is incredible.”

The game MVP was awarded to Manny Popoola who recorded a game high 31 efficiency with 78% field goal shooting and game highs of 16pts & 15 rebounds. Popoola saluted the great atmosphere generated by the Lions fans at the end of the game and said “The fans were brilliant. It is an intimidating factor for visiting teams and more importantly a great positive for us and really does encourage us to play harder and better for those cheering us on.”

Top Scorers

Teesside: Popoola 16, Lister 15, Reed 13, Leckenby 9, Gnagbo 7, Jackman 7, Devitt 5, Fell 5, Hartley 2, Thomson 2

Liverpool: Parkinson 20, Richards 16, Griffiths 15, Hughes 5, Graves 4

Lions now prepare for the away trip to Calderdale Explorers on Saturday before returning to Eston on Sunday 20th October to host Tameside.

More information and tickets can be purchased online at www.TeessideLions.com