Caledonia Gladiators 52-50 London Lions

Report by Robbie Macdonald

Caledonia Gladiators (BBL) sent 500 home supporters into ecstasy with an absolutely thrilling 52-50 victory over London Lions in the BBL Trophy quarter-final at the Emirates Arena tonight.

The home side edged out the league leaders in an agonizingly close affair to claim the lowest-scoring victory in BBL history.

After two straight wins in the BBL Championship, Gladiators aimed to translate their fine league performances into the trophy in pursuit of a place in the semi-final.

London Lions came into the game having won their five matches. Fresh off a BBL Cup final win at the end of January, the English team took their good form into this month and made history on Wednesday by becoming the first British team to reach the EuroCup playoffs. They sit top of the BBL championship having lost only two of their 19 games this season.

Despite the difference in league position there was very little to separate the sides at the start of the match. Both teams traded baskets in the opening quarter with neither managing to find any consistency on offence. Gladiators took advantage of Lions sloppy opening, scoring eight points from turnovers but a late six-point scoring run from the visitors ensured that Lions went into the break leading 17-14.

The second quarter began in similar fashion. Lions started well to increase their lead to five but this was the highest it would reach as Gladiators nipped away at their heels to stay in the match. The home side were not planning on playing catch-up all night and with two minutes left in the half flipped the game on its head. Aljami Durham scored two free-throws to equal the score at 26-26 before Jeremiah Bailey drove to the basket to take the lead for Caledonia. Durham was not done yet though and concluded the half with a brilliant three-point play to give his side a 31-26 lead to take into half-time.

Joshua Ward-Hibbert had a good half for London scoring seven points, but no one could come close to Durham who secured 13 points for the Scottish side. Bailey also deserves high praise for his work at the other basket winning six defensive rebounds.

London came out fighting in the third quarter but could not pull themselves back into the lead. Gladiators continued their professional performance doing enough to keep their narrow lead throughout the period without scoring a single three-pointer. It appeared that Jonny Bunyan had broken this trend as he finished well from range, but the referee ruled he had just snuck inside the two-point area to the dismay of Gareth Murray. Caledonia refused to dwell on the decision though and Bailey scored a wonderful slam dunk to increase their lead to six with two and a half minutes to play. Luke Nelson’s free-throw cut the deficit to five, but the home side held out to go into the final quarter with a 41-36 lead.

It only took the Lions three minutes to turn the game on its head though, with a seven-point scoring spree. Durham refused to allow momentum to stay with the visitors and immediately regained his side’s advantage with another three successful free-throws. Three scoreless minutes followed before a three-pointer from Zamoku Weluche gave Lions the advantage with two and a half minutes to go. That only lasted 20 seconds as Patrick Tapé scored a quick lay-up to regain the lead. The home support got louder and louder through the unbearable tension of the final moments but Gladiators edged over the line to claim a famous victory over the team from the capital.

Princeton Onwas had a good game, scoring eight points for the hosts but with 22 points, one assist and three rebounds, Durham was the only real contender for MVP, sponsored by Exceed Footwear.

There is no doubt that London’s hectic fixture schedule and rotation played into the hands of Caledonia but this is an incredible result that takes Murray’s side one step closer to a place in the BBL Trophy final on March 26 at the Emirates Arena. They now advance to the semi-finals and will play the winner of Plymouth City Patriots and Derby Trailblazers.

Before that though, it is back to BBL Championship action for Gladiators next Friday in a crucial match against Cheshire Phoenix, who sit just one place ahead of them in the standings. Tip-off is at 7:30 at the Emirates arena. TICKETS