London Lions roared loudest as the 2021 WBBL Playoff title was captured for the capital.

93-71 victors over Newcastle Eagles at the Morningside Arena, Mark Clark’s side were simply too potent and efficient as they had the final say in this most unusual of seasons.

Battered by Covid, stung by personal traumas, the Londoners found joy and some consolation in a quest for silverware that also included the WBBL Trophy.

With grand plans to enter the FIBA EuroCup, perhaps as soon as next term, and with deep pockets at their disposal from the club’s American owners, domestic dominance is now the ambition – one that comes with its own pressures but also with the backing to morph such fantasy into reality.

Here, they were excellent, particularly in a second half that ruthlessly crushed Newcastle’s dreams of a third consecutive upset in their storybook playoff run.

Shanice Beckford-Norton, the game’s Most Valuable Player, stood tall with 30 points and eight rebounds to set a captain’s lead.

“I owed it to them to have this game,” she said.

“I said at half-time that everyone needed to play their role. And that’s what they did. We stuck to the game plan for what each player needed to do. And we completed the job.

“We work hard in practice. Mark gets on us. And every practice just prepared us for the challenge of Newcastle.”

She had followers aplenty.

Kennedy Leonard, in hot pursuit of a triple-double, injected 20 points, 12 assists and ten rebounds. Named WBBL Player of the Year earlier this week, it was another milestone for the Scottish-American.

Chris Bunten’s side saved their best for first, shing instantly with a 6-2 opening. However Stephanie Umeh steadied London’s nerves by catalysing an 8-0 run that propelled the capital side in front and they would never again trail.

The Lions’ fast breaking gathered pace. Relentless in transition, it has been their calling card during a season where they took time to forge the best version of themselves but ultimately excelled.

Their shooting heated up in the second. Having missed her initial eight shots, Cassie Breen picked up two scores in quick succession with Chantel Charles capping a first half that concluded with her team 45-37 in front.

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Newcastle, with eight turnovers in 20 minutes, inhaled and regrouped. Their upset post-season run has been predicated on performing without fear.

Maddie McVicar and Abi Lowe drained back-to-back threes to reduce the gap and then McVicar, who added 19 points, converted her fifth three in as many attempts to polish off a 9-2 run that cut London’s advantage to 49-48 with 6:59 left in the third.

Further gains would come. A three-point play from Alison Gorrell drew Newcastle level once again. Yet London recomposed too. Umeh was again instrumental off the bench as eleven unanswered points within two minutes re-established supremacy, laying down a significant gauntlet.

Leonard’s composure was invaluable. Signed for two more years, she will see out a chunk of her prime in the UK and the Women’s British Basketball League will be all the better for it. Great Britain, perhaps, will be similarly fortified if her status can be resolved with FIBA.

Beckford-Norton keyed another 7-0 burst that had London 71-55 to the good at the start of the fourth. “She sets the tone of what we do defensively,” Clark noted.

Newcastle, making just one of their first 13 field goal attempts in the second half, were almost wholly reliant on trips to the line. As proficient as they were, as impactful was Gorrell’s team-high contribution of 30 points, it was not enough.

Outrebounding their foes 52-35, another 14-2 run in the fourth merely added lustre. Lions coasted, and then celebrated. Deservedly so.

More to come, vowed Clark.

“The great thing about this one is that it’s the beginning of something because the organisation wants to do something with British basketball,” he asserted.

“Shanice epitomises that. She was a junior at Barking with us, as was Chantel. If we’ve got people like that, then British basketball is in great shape. And that’s why it’s so special.”

Game Stats

Photos: AhmedPhotos

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