London Lions beaten by Hapoel Tel Aviv in EuroCup debut

Hapoel Tel Aviv 76-59 London Lions (24-13, 41-28, 58-46)
(Hapoel – Brown 19, Munford 11, Ginat 11; Lions – Zubcic 21, Koufos 14, Hruban 7)

London Lions made their debut in Europe this season, facing off against Hapoel Tel Aviv in Israel. Lions started the game nervous – which was to be expected considering this is their first time in the EuroCup and the first time a British team has taken part in this competition in 15 years. Hapoel on the other hand started the game all guns blazing, rushing to a 9-0 lead after three 3-pointers.

J’Covan Brown had the hot hand early on in the game, making 3/4 from behind the arc, leading his team to a 12-1 advantage within the first four minutes. Things only got worse for the Londoners as their star player Sam Dekker went down with an injured ankle just before the five-minute mark – heading straight to the locker room.

Tel Aviv continued their bombardment from behind the arc with 5/7 after Bar Timo drained his shot, giving his team their largest lead of 12 (19-17).

The British side knew they had to play better defence in the second quarter and stop their opponents from scoring as much as they did in the first, but Brown continued his onslaught, becoming the first player with double digit points, before draining another 3 – putting him at 4/6 – and his team up by 12 again (29-17).

London tried to get the ball down low to Kosta Koufos and play through the big man, but Hapoel’s tenacious defence made that very difficult. Coupled with their efficient offence, the Israelis managed to lead by as many as 17 (34-17) halfway through the period. Despite Lions tightening up their defence in the final few minutes, they didn’t manage to close the gap by much and were behind at the break by 13 (41-28).

The second half started in a similar fashion to the first, with the home side well in control and managing to increase their lead to as many as 18 points (50-32), after Xavier Munford made nine points in quick succession – including a four-point play after Koufos fouled him.

Lions continued to fight, trying to decrease the deficit and made some really nice plays, like when Vojtech Hruban outhustled his opponents to grab the offensive rebound and score an And-1 after Kareem Queeley’s missed shot.

Tomislav Zubcic was another who showed great heart for London – finishing with a game-high of 21 – including a contested 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter which helped his team win the period (17-18).

Hapoel controlled the game brilliantly in the final quarter in a very professional display of how a basketball team should keep their double-digit lead. They slowed down the tempo and didn’t allow Lions any easy baskets. Things started to look really bleak for the British side when Koufos went off limping with just under five minutes left to play – especially considering he was the team’s second-best player behind Zubcic, with eight points and nine rebounds thus far.

In what could prove crucial for the next few games however, the Greek international returned to the court 90 seconds later and finished off the game very strongly, scoring six more points – taking his tally up to 14 – as well as grabbing another rebound, securing himself a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Ultimately the game was a lot closer than what the final score suggests, with 3-point shooting separating the two teams. London are bound to improve their long-range shooting in future games, as 4/26 (15%) does not accurately represent the quality this team possesses.

Lions will be back in action in Europe next Tuesday (October 18), when they will face off against Italian side Dolomiti Energia Trento at the Copper Box. Tickets can be purchased HERE.

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