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London Lions fall short but offer glimpse into exciting future of British basketball


The London Lions’ historic European run came to an end – but the gutsy display and a vibrant atmosphere offered an exciting look at the future of British basketball

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The London Lions ultimately fell short in Europe, but Wednesday’s spectacle offered an exciting insight into the future of British basketball.

London have been a real beacon of light for the domestic game in recent years and it has all culminated in this FIBA Europe Cup run.

The match against Bahcesehir College ultimately ended in a 76-61 defeat, but the home team certainly ensured they did their city and country proud in the first second round European game to be held in the United Kingdom.

The defeat ended their hopes of quarter-final qualification as they slipped to 0-4 in the second group stage round. However, their aggressive defence and the stellar play from Isaiah Reese and Marquis Teague – younger brother of NBA champion and All-Star Jeff – ensured the atmospheric Copper Box was treated to a genuine display of intensity and heart.







Isaiah Reese starred for the London Lions with a game-leading 17 points
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Image:

Carol Moir)

London were defeated by Bahcesehir by 25 points in Istanbul back in December, but the players fed off the sensational energy of the boisterous crowd. Reese led the Lions with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists while Teague also tallied 17 points in coach James Vear’s first European outing in charge of the team.

“It was a rough night for us offensively,” said Vear, who replaced long-term coach Vince Macaulay earlier this month.

“We conceded 17 points off turnovers, which really cost us, but I thought second half we made some adjustments and the guys caused them some problems.

“We got it down to eight points and we had a couple of shots to cut it down to five – if those baskets go in, who knows what happens? I thought the second half performance was much improved.

“It says we lost by 15, but I think it felt closer than that.”






The London Lions rallied to make it an eight-point game in the fourth quarter, but their Istanbul adversaries pulled away

For the uninformed, British teams do not traditionally find success in Europe – but these Lions ensured they broke the mould.

The UK had six representatives competing on the continent back in the 1995-96 British Basketball League (BBL) season, but success has been hard to come by in the 26 years since.

The Leicester Riders became the first BBL team to compete in Europe in over 11 years when they played in the Europe Cup in 2018-19, failing to win a game in six attempts.






Marquis Teague hit a number of clutch lay-ups and a dunk to thrill the fans and keep the London Lions in touching distance

However, the 2021/22 London Lions have been trailblazers, flying through the first round to host the first second-round European game on British soil. With four minutes to go, Reese hit a clutch three-pointer, but a strong finish from the visitors ensured they saw out the win.

“We just missed a lot of shots we normally make,” said Teague, selected 29th overall by the Chicago Bulls in the 2012 NBA Draft. “We had a lot of turnovers as well as lost rebounds, and that was pretty much the story of the game right there.

“We tried to make a run in the second half but we ran out of gas.”

For now, London’s attention turns to the British Basketball League as they attempt to hunt down the unbeaten Leicester Riders, who sit atop the BBL with 10 wins from 10. They will also welcome Avtodor and Bakken Bears to the Olympic Park as their exciting and historic European chapter draws to a close.

Speaking about the emphatic support for the Lions, coach Vear added: “The European nights here are amazing. It was packed out, the fans were loud and our guys really fed off their energy.

“These European nights are special, not just for the Lions but for British basketball in general.”

The team may be playing for nothing but dignity and respect as they close their historic European campaign with back-to-back games at home, but one thing is for sure: London – and the United Kingdom – are proud of these valiant Lions.

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