BBL: London Lions 88 Glasgow Rocks 72
PUBLISHED: 08:06 09 December 2019 | UPDATED: 08:06 09 December 2019
London Lions kicked off their BBL Championship title defence in front of a packed Copper Box Arena on Sunday with a comprehensive victory over the Radisson Red Glasgow Rocks.
The league champions were able to finally start their marquee signing Ovie Soko for the first time after their three-month Cup competition came to an end the previous weekend at Leicester.
And the Rocks entered the contest after a three-week break, after their cup adventure saw them miss the quarter-finals and left time to regroup.
The first quarter flew by as the Lions established a 29-17 lead thanks in part to impressive shooting from the perimeter and their traditional strong presence inside with Brandon Peel and new man Soko.
Soko had an immediate impact with six points in the first period and an excellent pass that drew appreciation from a crowd hanging on his every move but Peel was not quite able to finish at the rim.
The second quarter continued with the same energy, with Soko going hard to the basket and drawing an early foul, but the Rocks would do a much better job on defence, even with Soko, Peel and Justin Robinson all on the floor.
Lions captain Joe Ikhinmwin had set the tone with smooth outside shooting as the hosts were making over half their shots.
But Gareth Murray was in the mood to show why he is so important for the national team with a brilliant spin move and and-one lay-up on Peel, a solid defender in his own right.
Peel returned to the action in the second quarter and contributed on both ends as the man tipped by some to be the MVP this season reminded the world of British Basketball what he is about though with a great block on Rinkunas in the dying moments of the first half.
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Jules Dang-Akodo found Sam Toluwase to sink a corner three on the buzzer to send the Lions into the break up 46-29.
Peel would go on to finish with another double-double and a team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Ali Frasier, who led the Rocks in scoring at the break, looked to take the game over in the third quarter with an impressive offensive display but it wasn't enough to bridge the gap as the Lions extended their lead by a further three points heading into the final period.
Frasier, who represented Scotland at the 2018 Commonwealth games, was tireless despite having to defend Peel and Alioune Tew, and showed impressive footwork and strong post play to lead his team with 24 points, three rebounds and three assists.
The final term was edged by the Rocks, but the Lions had controlled the contest from the opening tip and done more than enough to control the fixture until the final buzzer.
Soko revealed being back home as "feeling surreal" but enjoyed playing in front of friends and family.
Having been in training for around a month with his new teammates, he added: "The guys have been great, they have been awesome, they've welcomed me with open arms and have really made it easy for me. The sky is the limit."
Coach Vince Macaulay was pleased with the win, but felt the defending left a little to be desired, adding: "I know we held them to 72 but it really wasn't what we wanted to do, but it's early days."
"Ovie's joined us, he's a major cog in the wheel, so he has to be fitted into everything we do. We know he's an exceptional player but we've got to be able to play around him and with him, so I think there is a lot more to come especially when we play some of the tougher clubs."
Lions travel to Manchester next weekend before hosting the Bristol Flyers at the Copper Box Arena on December 18.