London Lions suffer Champions League heartbreak with Neptunas defeat

London Lions coach Vince Macaulay talks to his players (pic Graham Hodges)

London Lions coach Vince Macaulay talks to his players (pic Graham Hodges) - Credit: Archant

London Lions suffered FIBA Basketball Champions League heartbreak as they missed out on the next stage with a narrow 77-73 defeat to Lithuanian side Neptunas Klaipeda in the first qualifying round.

The first quarter couldn’t have started any better for the visitors, as Deandre Liggins finished in traffic to create an early and one opportunity.

Kevin Ware, Justin Robinson and Byron Mullens were able to continue piling pressure on to the Neptunas defence, with Ware adding four points, and Robinson and Mullens both adding important three-point shots, leaving Mullens with six at the first, and Robinson with five.

The Lions were playing with confidence, and defensively looked solid until the end of the quarter, and the side trailed by three at the end of the period, in a close 21-24 game.

Kervin Bristol added the first points of the second quarter for the Lions from mid-range before Robinson added five to the scoreboard with a layup and a huge three, to leave the battling visitors only down by one.

Basketball is a game of runs, and following Robinson’s work the hosts were able to claw back a sizeable lead, with six unanswered points to give Neptunas a 37-30 lead.

However, the Lions answers back before the end of the quarter, as Ware’s slam dunk and Bristol’s control in the paint added some much needed offensive consistency, and the Lions trailed 38-40 at the halfway mark.

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The third quarter began in dramatic fashion, as the referees had a huge call to make following an on-court scuffle between Mullens and a Neptunas player.

This sparked the Lions into life, Mullens making both free throws before dishing off for a dunk for Matthew Bryan-Amaning, followed by Liggins making a mid-range jumper to pull the game back to 45 apiece.

Bryan-Amaning began to take over the quarter for the Lions, as he added two fantastic finishes in the post, along with a huge three-pointer from captain Joe Ikhinmwin and a fantastic coast to coast layup from Ware to see the sides go in level at 54 at the end of the third quarter.

The Lions couldn’t have had a better start to the fourth quarter, as they finally took the lead through Ikhinmwin after he four quick points, including one fantastic turn in the paint that resulted in an and one, but it was missed.

However, the tables quickly turned and Neptunas began to control the game once again, and the Lions defence was giving the hosts way too many open looks.

Neptunas had a six point lead, before Robinson added three points in unusual fashion, as the ball bounced off the rim, onto the top of the backboard and in, followed by Dirk Williams hitting a clutch three to tie the game at 73 each.

But it wasn’t enough for the Lions, as Neptunas were able to close out.

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