tadea Middlesbrough Lions 85-83 Burnley Blaze
By Tom Jameson
Tuesday 22 Nov 2011 09:03:00
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The biggest crowd of the season witnessed tadea Middlesbrough Lions beat the previously unbeaten league leaders; Burnley Blaze in yet another thriller at Eston Sports Academy.

It was Lions best performance of the season and this time it was consistent throughout the entire game as both sides kept within shouting distance of each other for three quarters before Lions upped the ante in the fourth to go ahead as many as 14pts with just four minutes remaining.

With the game seemingly won, two normally dependable Lions would almost cost their side victory as first Papis Samb was caught out of position twice on defence; leading to two easy baskets for Burnley. Then Tom Robinson lost control by picking up a technical foul for dissent to the referees. This decision awarded Burnley four free throws and possession with less than 40 seconds to play. Ithiel Bilson-Graham would hold his nerve to hit both and captain Ben Frimpong made his first under a barrage of noise from the home fans then missed his second.

The possession though would then lead to a basket through the big man Rezk to cut Lions lead to just 2pts. Lions were then unable to score in the next play which meant Burnley controlled the ball with five seconds remaining. It was a tense and dramatic final few seconds but Middlesbrough managed to steal the ball and release Papis Samb who propelled himself down the court to slam home on the buzzer. The basket was deemed out of time, though the result was a 2pt win for Lions who now sit in joint second place with Burnley and Bradford Maroons, behind the only unbeaten side left in Stockport Falcons II.

The game began with Patrick O’Connor firing a long shot only for Burnley to respond with a big 3 from Bilson-Graham. Lions captain Robinson drove well on the next two plays but Burnely were showing impressive range as Frimpong hit a deep 3. 6’10 centre; Rezk was also proving a handful under the basket and gave the visitors a 4pt lead in the seventh minute; 11-15.Lions though were not intimidated and with big American; Mike Konanec controlling boards and making shots very difficult for the Blaze,

Lions came back well as Samb converted a crafty drive and Lee Norton fired in a 3-pointer to tie the game 19-19. With less than a minute remaining, Blaze would 4 points via Andre Taylor while a single free throw from Robinson would keep Lions behind 20-23 at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Middlesbrough came out a determined side as Robinson made a baseline jumper and Konanec received a nice pass from Samb to produce an ‘And 1’ play; the big man also converting the bonus shot to tie the game.Both sides traded baskets and in the eighth minute Frimpong, Taylor and Bilson-Graham combined to push Burnley 5pts in front; 35-40. Momentum would then switch as a late 9-2 run from Middlesbrough would push the hosts slightly ahead; 44-42 heading into half time.

The third period was a big one for Lions as they outscored the Blaze 24-19 to extend their lead to 62-57. Lions regained composure following an early 6-0 run instigated by the ever dangerous Bilson-Graham. It would take Lions four minutes to hit the target but Konanec was a pivotal figure in the revival as he produced another ‘And 1’ and two big blocks in the 9-0 run with Dan Armory hitting his second 3 of the game. Mini runs would finish the period, but Lions were always one more than their opponents and heading into the final quarter were worthy leaders.

The final period saw Patrick O’Connor inspire his team with an ’And 1’ play in the first minute followed by another 4pts shortly after. Robinson was also in the thick of the action and in addition to an 8pt spell the captain produced a big block in the sixth minute. In the seventh minute Konanec found the net again after a good pass from O’Connor while intelligent play from Norton and Summerbell would help control the final minutes. The rest, as they say, is history and to the utter delight of the Middlesbrough faithful Lions held on for the biggest win of the season.

Lions enjoyed some great performances in particular Mike Konanec was yet again a defensive revelation with 15 rebounds & 5 blocks whilst also chipping in 16pts. The MVP though was a player who nearly cost his team the game with a technical foul, but having survived that Tom Robinson delivered a top class game with his first triple-double of 28pts, 11 rebounds & 11 assists.

For Burnley, Ithiel Bilson-Graham was the main threat as he finished with 27pts. Taylor, Frimpong and Rezk also finished in double figures.

Top Scorerstadea Lions: Robinson 28, Konanec 16, Samb 16, O’Connor 11Blaze: Bilson-Graham 27, Taylor 18, Frimpong 14, Rezk 14The game finished on a sour note as a disgruntled Burnley Coach; Malcolm Leak refused to shake hands with the Lions, but to the applause of the Middlesbrough fans, nothing was going to spoil the Lions celebration.

After the game, a drained Coach Thomson was happy with the win saying “We were worthy of the win and I would go as far as saying we should have won by more than 10pts but credit to Burnley they didn’t give up and almost took the game from us.”

Asked on whether discipline is a problem, Coach Thomson replied “Yes, its something we have identified and still need to address. We almost lost this game because of two mistakes and we can’t allow that. Thankfully we overcame this and I hope we will learn from this in future.”

The tadea Lions will now travel for a double header away to Mersey Tigers and the only unbeaten side in Stockport Falcons II. Lions can potentially take pole position next Sunday if they can win both games and other results go their way. Either way, Lions have proven they are genuine contenders in what is developing into a very exciting season.

Photo Carrie-Anne Brown

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