The tie is now finally poised for next week’s second leg in Edinburgh. Although the Uni have never beaten the Kings they have now pushed them nail-bitingly close two games in a row and the squad will hope that next week they can finally overcome the championship favourites.
Speaking after the game Glasgow Uni head coach Mike Lawton was optimistic about his team’s chances: “We knew we could play with them. We’ve worked really hard on the defensive game and played as a team. We get better every time we play against them and I’m confident in the guys.”
There was a sense of acceptance, but positivity, about the result from the uni. A promising three point lead in the fourth quarter was rapidly turned into a three point deficit, but Lawton couldn’t find fault with the uni’s defence: “Simon [Flockhart, Edinburgh Kings] made a bunch of tough turn arounds. If the big guy is making them and he’s being double teamed there’s nothing you can do.”
Momentum swung wildly between the teams through the game. At points in the second quarter the uni were 14 points up and ended the first half with a 42-31 lead.
But the Kings outscored their opponents heavily for the next ten minutes to pull the score back to 52-52 at the end of the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter the teams went point for point for a long time. When Laurynas Spangevicius made a break for Glasgow, managed to score whilst being fouled and John Bustin put away the free throws, Glasgow opened up a three point lead.
Edinburgh, as you’d expect from champions, fought back. With ten seconds to go the Kings had built a three point lead, but a foul on Calum Nicol left the Glasgow player with two free shots to get the Uni back to within a point. He missed the first, scored the second and a timeout was called.
With eight seconds left on the clock the uni tried to hold their opposition out and go to Edinburgh just a point behind. It looked like Glasgow had clung on after the Kings missed a shot, but the uni were undone by a lucky score off a rebound which gave the Edinburgh side a four point lead that at one stage in the match had looked unthinkable.
Kings coach Doug Reilly was looking forward to getting back to Edinburgh for the second leg: “I’m not going to make excuses, but we’ll be confident at our own gym.
“They’ve got a smaller side, and we’ve got some big guys that we should be able to exploit, and we did. We were adjusting to what was on the court.”
There had been concerns that Steve Archer, John Bustin and Calum Nicol, key players for the uni, would be tired after their exploits for the Scottish Uni’s team at the university Home Nations tournament mid-week.
But all three had excellent games, particularly Nicol who stood up to the physical tactics of the Edinburgh team. It was noticeable that when Nicol wasn’t on the court the Glasgow defence looked vulnerable.
At times in the first half the Kings seemed to have no answer to Glasgow’s fluid attack. With Archer and Bustin dictating plays, and the rest of the team hitting their passes and shots with ease, the Uni weren’t just winning, but were doing so with style.
Considering the importance of the game and their underdog status, Glasgow looked like they were having a lot of fun. Moments like Archer’s mazy dribble to the basket, Ugnius Zasimauskas’ amazing vision to provide Archer with an easy lay-up and Chris Neal’s three-pointer to open the scoring for the match, had the crowd in raptures.
But the undoubted champagne moment of the match was Nicol’s slap-down of an attempted Kings lay-up. The one Glasgow player capable of matching the Kings for physicality wasn’t just standing up to them, he was dominating. The underdogs were biting back.
The Kings’ Edgars Rekis, a big player in any circumstances but particularly compared to the relatively small Glasgow team, found his route to the basket regularly blocked in the first half and grew increasingly frustrated.
But when the Edinburgh team began to move the ball more in the second half spaces began to appear. Rekis and Flockhart started to impose themselves, and Lee Reilly began to hit three-pointers with startling regularity. After finding themselves in the ascendancy in the third quarter the Kings always looked like they had the confidence to go on and win.
Glasgow’s Chris Neal hopes the Uni can finally turn the Kings over next week: “We’ve been blown out by them in this season but we’ve really ran with them recently, so I think we can come out next week and win by more than four points. They are best team in league at the moment and they’re confident, and we weren’t quite there.”
The uni get one more shot at the Kings this season in the second leg next week. If they can maintain their level of performance from the first half today, then the reigning champions’ four point lead is going to begin to look increasingly slender.
The tie is on a knife’s edge.