Teesside Lions won one and lost one in the space of two days ahead of their first National League game at Lancashire Spinners on Saturday.
Four key players were unavailable for the visit of Derbyshire Arrows in front of a good crowd at Eston, with Manny Popoola, Ross Leckenby, Patrick Gnagbo and Joe Fitzpatrick all missing the final pre-season friendly against a team one division higher.
Coach Thomson alluded to the value of playing a tough side and ironing out the kinks ahead of the regular season and despite a poor start, the Lions came back roaring to enter half time down by just 3pts.
The interval probably came too soon as it disrupted the Lions momentum and allowed the Arrows an opportunity to break and re-group. The second half was a more dominant display from the visitors and their chemistry and final touch was clearly a league above.
Teesside Lions 74-93 Derbyshire Arrows
James Cussack instigated a 10-0 run for the visitors as Lions struggled to find their feet in front of a healthy crowd at Eston Sports Academy. It took Teesside four minutes to find the net responding as they did with a 10-0 run themselves; Tommy Devitt and Joe Lister hitting a drive and 3-pointer each.
Callum McKenzie though was the difference as he hit 9 of Derbyshire’s 24pts in the first quarter.
A four point deficit became 13pts in the first three minutes of the second quarter as Lions were yet again slow out of the blocks. Chris Jackman made a nice lay-up in the third minute and Anthony Reed followed soon after with a strong And 1 play which seemed to inspire Teesside into great defence and much better offence. Paul Hartley created some good opportunities and in the final minute of the half David Winterbottom connected under the basket and Devitt contributed 5pts including a nice 3-pointer to close the gap to 3pts.
Joe Lister who was pulling the strings for Lions in the first half had picked up his fourth foul late in the second quarter and had to endure an extended break. The third quarter, often the most important, was Lions worst as they lost the period 12-20. The damage could have been worse if not for a nice reverse lay-up from Jackman and three converted free throws from Devitt; fouled on a 3-point shot with 0.6 seconds remaining.
In the final period, tired legs got the better of Lions and despite a pair of 3’s from Lister, the shot opportunities were limited due to a peppered display of poor passing and execution from Teesside. The introduction of 15 year old pair Joshua Thomson and Charles Copeland brought with it some much needed invigoration and movement which helped the hosts finish better but overall the Lions were playing catch-up throughout the game.
Derbyshire, as expected, were a level above the Lions, but as the team showed against Division One opposition in a previous friendly, there were plenty of positives to take away in addition to the all important areas for improvement.
Coach Thomson refused to be drawn on whether the missing players could have been the difference, adding:
“We competed for large parts of the game and could have done better. I felt Tommy (Devitt), Joe (Lister) and Chucky (David Winterbottom) were very effective and almost all players contributed in patches but without the essential consistency.
“Having said that, we wanted a tough test and we certainly got one. Our strengths were below average today and our weaknesses were exposed too often. We lacked the consistency we would have liked but rather than this being viewed as a negative, we are now all the more wiser and determined to fix the faults.”
There was a good crowd enjoying the game and the team are hoping they have shown enough glimpses of potential to encourage the fans back for the visit of Liverpool on Sunday 6th October.
Prior to the Liverpool game is the trip to Lancashire Spinners next Saturday. A game which Devitt is urging his team mates to stand up and deliver. The Manchester born guard enjoyed a solid debut for Lions with 18pts, but wasn’t happy with the overall game adding:
“It’s just not good enough, not good enough. We should be doing better and we know we are capable players. We need to be more consistent and while I accept chemistry will come in time, I think we could have done more today and I am now expecting a good response at training.”
Teesside Lions: Lister 21, Devitt 18, Jackman 13, Reed 7, Fell, Fisher, Winterbottom 4, Hartley 3
Derbyshire Arrows: McKenzie 24, Allen 21, Moore 13,
Teesside Lions 69-63 Tees Valley Mohawks
Teesside opened their Durham League account on Thursday with a big win over local rivals Tees Valley Mohawks. Four Lions hit double figures in what was a great game overall as Joe Lister led the way with 18pts and a flurry of highlights. Anthony Reed & Chris Jackman chipped in with 13pts apiece while Moataz Alzwai contributed 12pts and a big presence.