A capacity crowd at the Copper Box Arena, on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, witnessed a new era in London professional basketball take flight as the London Lions played host to NCAA powerhouse, Iowa University on Wednesday evening.
The game provided a good opportunity for the Lions to evaluate prospective players for the upcoming season while giving fans a first look at their new home and a small taste of the entertainment they can expect once the new season gets underway at the end of September. The spectacle certainly didn’t disappoint.
Fans were treated to rousing renditions of both the American and British national anthems, sung by Elvis (ok, an Elvis impersonator – but he was good…) and up and coming new talent Alex RV Phillips.
Then the game officially got underway with Lions starting out with only 2 of their projected new starting 5 available during a traditionally slow summer off-season, going up against a fully loaded Hawkeyes team, who are tipped to contend for a NCAA tournament spot next season. Iowa jumped out to an early lead behind the hot shooting of Josh Oglesby, who hit 2 deep 3’s in the first quarter in pushing the Hawkeyes out to an 11 point lead. It wasn’t until Lions introduced one of their guest players, GB International Matthew Bryan-Amaning, that they began to find any kind of rhythm on both ends of the floor, bringing the game back to single digits playing through him in the post.
However, the relentless ball movement and transition offense of the well-oiled Hawkeyes attack continued to wear the Lions down and expose understandable holes in an off-season summer squad who had clearly not all played together. Iowa up 12. Back into the game came Bryan-Amaning, along with new Lions signing Joe Ikhimnwin and young Jordan Spencer, who got the Lions back to within 3 points on a 9-0 run – capped by the play of the game:
Despite Bryan-Amaning proving unstoppable on the offensive end, finishing as the games highest scorer with 20 points personal, it was the composure and balanced attack of the Hawkeyes who came back again behind the impressive Peter Jok, who calmly sank a couple of mid-range jumpers to put Iowa up by double digits at the half.
The second half belonged to the Hawkeyes after a decisive 11-2 run in the 3rd quarter extended their advantage to 21 points, from which they never looked back.
East London’s very own Gabriel Olaseni, who is on scholarship at Iowa and returned home for the first time to play in front of friends and family, proved to be the story of the night. Olaseni finished with 14 points, including a couple of sobering slams as he relished the opportunity to show how much he has improved during his time in the states in front of the capacity crowd. “This meant everything to me,” said Olaseni. “I couldn’t have dreamed for a better atmosphere. Every time I stepped off the court all I could think about was my teammates and family. I’m forever grateful to the coaching staff for giving me an opportunity to play here.”
Despite the scoreline, which saw Iowa deservedly run out 107-72 winners, the whole event finished on a high with the crowd buzzing at the prospect of the Lions season ahead at the impressive Copper Box Arena.
“I thought it was a great advert for British basketball with over 6,000 fans there for the first game at our new home. It was terrific to see such a high class team as Iowa, who are tipped to win the Big 10 this year” said Lions Head Coach Vince MaCaulay. “We were missing some players, and were facing a very good team, but we made a good fist of it even though they won the game. It was great for London basketball, and I’m looking forward to our next home game on September 27th.”
Pictures courtesy of Hoopsfix.com / AbdulKassim.com:[fbphotos id=10151517173916666 limit=30 size=small]