TEAM Solent Kestrels made a winning return to action with a resounding 92-78 victory over Barking Abbey London Lions, writes Jack O'Keeffe.

In the first game of the NBL L Lynch Trophy group stage, league and cup champions Kestrels welcomed Lions to Solent Sports Complex with both sides in competitive action for the first time in seven months.

The lay off certainly showed in the opening exchanges before Travis Charles opened the scoring for TSK with a trademark mid-range jumper.

BA newcomer Abiodun Adedo stroked a triple to open his side’s account but it was Kestrels who made the first meaningful run to take a 13-5 lead midway through the quarter.

Andre Arissol and Chris Scarlett came off the bench to knock down a pair of threes as the teams traded baskets to finish the quarter with TSK 20-13 up.

It was much of the same to start the second period, as Charles and this time Elliot Dadds found easy scoring opportunities for the hosts, whilst Adedo and Veron Eze kept the scoreboard ticking for Barking. An 8-0 run would put some daylight between the two teams and when Dadds capped off the run with a kick out three before coach James Vear would use his first time out of the half to stop the run.

A 7-2 run post-timeout for BA pulled them back to within seven at 34-27, but it was yet another back and forth spell to close the half as TSK took a 40-33 advantage into the break.

Barking trimmed it to five to start the second half through Cem Umer but an 8-2 run courtesy of forward duo Charles and Orlan Jackman would restore an 11-point advantage for TSK. In what was the story of the game, the sides traded blows again through long spells of the third, before Eze stroked a triple to cut the gap to five at 55-50.

Despite a pair of Johnathan Lashley free throws, it was the young and spirited BA side that continued in the ascendancy, pulling to within just two points, with just two minutes left in the period. However Kestrels showed their maturity and responded with an 8-1 run, capped off by a pair of Brendan Okoronkwo foul shots to leave his side up 66-57 with 10 minutes to play.

TSK flew out of the gate to start the final quarter and a 15-2 run, with a series of live ball turnovers and scores the other way, left the hosts firmly in control 81-59 with just under seven minutes to play.

Charles extended the gap to 24 after a BA timeout but a 9-0 run from the Londoners showed they were still ready to compete. Eedryck Okunola trimmed the deficit to 12 with a triple for the visitors and Boardman momentarily brought it to nine, before five straight points closed the game out for TSK, who held on for a 92-78 victory.

Kestrels head coach Matt Guymon said: “It felt great to get back on the floor after seven months away. This wouldn’t have been possible without the fantastic combined effort of all the NBL D1 clubs working together.

“This was our first opportunity to see our squad and I’m pleased with how the new guys are already integrating in with the group. We look forward to continuing to build over the next few weeks of the L Lynch Trophy. Credit to Barking who played beyond their years, most notably Veron Eze and Flynn Boardman, who I thought caused us some problems. They are such a young group that I think will be highly competitive this season.”

Charles led the way for the home side with 21 points and 11 rebounds, whilst new faces Jackman and Arissol had 17 and 15 respectively. Reigning MVP Ian Smith also had 11 assists.

Barking’s attack was led by star man Eze who posted 21 points whilst Boardman and Adedo added 18 and 17 apiece.