Gladiators rock on to Cup QF, Giants top Pats, Nix sneak past Eagles
Caledonia Gladiators 81-72 Surrey Scorchers (23-16, 20-16, 19-24, 19-17)
(Gladiators D Adams 19, F Malcolm 15, P Tape 12; J Steel 20, J Ray 19, P Wang 9)
Manchester Giants 92-79 Plymouth City Patriots (24-16, 23-14, 20-24, 25-25)
(Giants: T Green 28, W Lee 14, A Robertson 13; Patriots: A Williams 21, M Bell 17, T Simons 13)
Cheshire Phoenix 80-77 Newcastle Eagles (26-17, 17-18, 21-17, 16-25)
(Phoenix T Teague 21, J Anderson 13, W Neighbour 12; Eagles J Hamlet 25, D Shelton 15, D Defoe 9)
Being full-time on the sidelines this season for the Caledonia Gladiators might be giving franchise legend Gareth Murray a greater view of the on-court action. And he certainly appreciated the opening 10 minutes of the first BBL Cup game this season against the Surrey Scorchers.
His team got out to a good 23-16 start, but in the second quarter the visiting team settled their legs and started directing the at-home Gladiators into the paint, where a good defensive wall started forming. It forced Caledonia into tough shots and turnovers, and helped Surrey close the gap half way through the second quarter.
The BBL Cup match-up came about thanks to a seventh place finish for the Gladiators, and the 10th place finish in last season’s BBL Championship for the Scorchers. External expectations for a dramatic rise this season for either team weren’t necessarily high, but there are several changes on either team to suggest the results might differ.
One of these roster changes, aside from Murray sitting out, was the addition of Darian Adams. Coming from Jacksonville Gamecocks in college basketball, where he averaged 15 points per game, he showed his worth to this Gladiators team within 13 minutes of personal game play, having already scored 15.
The team still found themselves relying on local legends, when Fraser Malcolm jab stepped with three minutes left in the half, and got a step on his defender to attack the basket and get the foul for a three-point play.
Surrey managed to close the gap slightly after a re-think at halftime, and Josh Steel stepped up, scoring seven of the Scorcher’s 24 points in the third.
The player who kept his cool for Caledonia, however, was Adams. Despite going scoreless for much of the third quarter, he managed to slither into the lane and hit the comfortable looking jumpshot. This helped the Gladiators go into the fourth with a seven point lead and a bit of confidence, which his teammates made the most of.
Adams then set up Patrick Tape for an easy dunk, then while the American got a breather, Fraser Malcolm and Jonny Bunyan built the lead back up to 10.
The man of Steel did what he could for the Scorchers, and hit back-to-back threes to close the gap to four, but a series of handling errors, turnovers and forced shots by Surrey saw Caledonia extend the gap again to finish 81-72.
This meant the Gladiators advanced to the next round of the BBL Cup, where they will face the Sheffield Sharks for the Quarter Final.
In this early part of the season, only one spot on the BBL Championship table separated the Manchester Giants and the Plymouth City Patriots going into Sunday’s contest, though few would have expected this to be the case during independent season preview discussions.
At the National Performance Centre in Manchester, the Giants showed why there was such a buzz around the team in the opening few minutes. Veteran Rahmon Fletcher showed why he is an early-season MVP consideration. He led the way with five points in the opening quarter, along with three assists, but was supported by Dirk Williams who was trying to bounce back after a disappointing game on Friday against the Newcastle Eagles.
The player who made up for Williams’ woes on Friday was Nick Lewis, and kept his hot shooting going early in the second quarter of Sunday’s match-up against the Patriots. His four-point play doubled Plymouth’s scoreline to 32-16 in what looked like an early blowout.
This feeling continued into the second quarter with Tajh Green. Who scored eight points within a minute or so thanks to back-to-back three-point makes and an exclamation dunk. He finished the first half with 15 points to his name.
But the Plymouth City Patriots weren’t going to roll over and die. They came out of the locker room with a 20-9 run as Antonio Williams took over. The guard was everywhere, slicing through the action for acrobatic layups and stepping back for three-point makes. Closing the gap to six points, it was clear Williams was feeling the pressure to complete the comeback, especially when teammates were unable to hit open shots.
A timeout from Giants coach Vince Macaulay saw a defensive adjustment to swarm Williams, and his teammates couldn’t capitalise. A struggling Dirk Williams was benched, and Manchester slowed down the offence to work the pick-and-roll between Fletcher and Legend Robertin saw the big man push the gap to 13 heading into the fourth.
The closing quarter was an entertaining, high scoring 10 minutes, but it’s exactly what the Patriots couldn’t afford. They needed consecutive defensive stops that never came, and the gap wouldn’t change from between 10-14 points down the stretch.
Ben Mockford has big shoes to fill for the Newcastle Eagles. It’s clear the team is adjusting to the loss of former point guard Rahmon Fletcher, but the team has revamped the roster in other areas to remain competitive.
However, the Cheshire Phoenix made the most of the less productive offence from Newcastle in the opening quarter and got out to an early lead, and as one of the best defenders in the league, Jamell Anderson headed this up for the Nix.
One veteran player Newcastle can still rely on is Darius Defoe. He got going early, with six early points. As the one man left from last year’s roster, the Eagles legend is taking on a lot of responsibility this season. He hit a handful of free throws, hit a dunk and a layup to keep his team within reach.
The second quarter was more competitive, and the Eagles followed their captains’ lead. Mockford, Javion Hamlet, Lesley Varner, Jermel Kennedy, Duke Shelton, Brandon Aughburns and Defoe all got on the board for a well-rounded team effort.
Toward the end of the third quarter, big man Tahjai Teague found himself with an open lane and drove for a tomahawk dunk but slammed it against the back rim. A scramble for the rebound saw the ball end up in his hands under the basket, and he managed to two-hand flush the ball for safety. This began a wild sequence of up and down play, and the Phoenix managed to secure a layup that prompted a timeout so both teams could compose themselves.
In the fourth quarter the back-and-forth action continued with the Cheshire crowd getting loudly behind the Phoenix. An exciting sequence saw Jordan Strawberry hit a three, and the Eagles David Cohn attempt to push the ball back up the court, only to be blocked by Will Neighbour at the rim. This saw saw Danny Evans spring back into action for a layup of his own up the other end within seconds.
Newcastle’s Duke Shelton wasn’t letting go of the rope entirely to stay within reach, however. Mike Ochereobia got caught in no-man’s land in the middle of the court near above the three-point arc, and Shelton closed off the Nix big man’s pivot foot to steal the ball. Ochereobia chased Shelton down, but the Eagle threw it down on the defender’s head.
A few plays later, former NBA G League player Javion Hamlet pressured Evans to get another steal and attack in transition for a layup, plus the foul.
Phoenix coach Ben Thomas identified the momentum building for his opponents and called a timeout. He drew up a half court play to put the ball in Anderson’s hands and get a post play for Neighbour, who sunk a fadeaway from the middle of the lane.
Lesley Varner still managed a fast break layup for the Eagles to close the gap to five with less than four minutes to go, but Anderson kept a cool head and responded by hitting a runner off the glass for the Phoenix.
Lloyd Daniels got downhill for Cheshire as the defence collapsed and he dumped it back to Teague, who was barrelling down the lane.
At the other end, Cohn missed a layup but Shelton grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked it out to a wide open, Mockford who nailed the three. And after forcing a turnover on defence, the Eagles were back out and running, with Shelton finishing under pressure in transition to close the gap to one point.
Newcastle had to foul to stop a Cheshire-friendly clock and put Neighour on the line, who nailed both, which put the home team up three.
The Eagles called a timeout, and Marc Steutel drew up a perfectly executed play to spring Mockford free for an open three in the corner. It was perfectly on line, but didn’t have the distance.
Nix coach Ben Thomas praised good performances from Teague and Daniels and spoke to the BBL’s Jamie Thomas about securing the win. He said: “In the fourth quarter, we got a little bit sloppy and complacent but we got the win and it’s all about results. I would have preferred the 20-point win, but I’ll take the three-point win.”
Mockford might not be fully wearing Rahmon Fletcher’s legendary shoes just yet, but his play towards the end of the game got the Eagles back into this contest, and he got open for a three that, if it had the legs, would have sent the game to overtime.
His coach, however, wasn’t pleased that Newcastle were in that situation to begin with. Steutel said: “I’m really frustrated . I thought we put ourselves in that position by not doing the things we want to do. If we do the things we want to do and teams are ahead of us, that’s no problem, but it’s annoying when you don’t control areas of the game you want to. While it was good to give ourselves a chance at the end of the game, we shouldn’t have been in that position.”
So, maybe Newcastle will be in good shape later in the season, but for now, the Cheshire Phoenix got away with a slim victory.
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