Caledonia Gladiators made it three wins out of four in their FIBA Europe Cup campaign with a comfortable 94-67 victory to complete the double over Romanian outfit BC CSU Sibiu.
The travelling Transylvanians looked to get their first win of the tournament, but Gladiators showed their class to keep themselves within touching distance of Surne Bilbao at the top of group B.
Caledonia came out flying. Patrick Whelan got the scoring underway with a three-pointer less than 30 seconds into the game. Prince Onwas then opened his account with a neat layup before getting three of his own just seconds later.
Pavlin Ivanov eventually got his side on the score sheet with a three-point jump shot but a score from Fahro Alihodzic followed by another three from Whelan brought Gladiators’ lead to double figures, forcing Tomas Rinkevicius into an early timeout less than four minutes in.
The visitors endeavoured to get back into the game, but the home side, backed by a loud PlaySport crowd, showed little sign of letting up and were in full control of the game. Captain Alihodzic was dominant in the paint, claiming five rebounds while shoving off defenders to make space for layups. Lukas Palyza got himself on the scoresheet with a well-finished three while Whelan and Onwas kept up their good form to give the hosts a 25-10 lead at the end of the quarter.
The home team refused to let the break hamper their momentum. Mihailo Jovicic’s jump shot 30 seconds into the second added another two to their tally before Clifton Moore drew a foul on his layup, converting on the and-one to increase their advantage to 20 from the free-throw line.
Sibiu finally found some rhythm with an eight-point scoring run to cut the gap. Kyle Johnson halted the streak though, with an impressive three-pointer to the relief of Gareth Murray.
The teams traded baskets in the closing minutes of the half, neither managing to get any real sequence going. Palyza’s second three-pointer took the lead to 19 as they looked to see out the quarter. But Pavlin Ivanov had other ideas, finishing brilliantly from beyond the arc while drawing the foul to complete a four-point play two seconds from the half.
There were several top first-half performers for Gladiators, notably Onwas with 11 points and Alihodzic with eight rebounds. However, Whelan was the star of the show with 13 points, three assists and two rebounds to help his side to a 44-29 lead halfway through the ball game.
The GB international kept his tally ticking over, opening the second-half scoring with an early two from the free throw line. Ian Dubose drove to the basket to add another two, seconds later, but Yordan Minchev replied with a layup of his own to keep the Romanian side within 20.
Sibiu began to build some momentum with back-to-back threes, but they just could not handle star man Whelan who looped in another three-pointer to the delight of the home support. CSU kept nipping away trying to get the margin back to single figures, but Gladiators stood firm to keep the advantage to at least 11.
With three minutes to go, Palyza held his nerve to score three straight free throws with ease before Whelan hit yet another jump shot to reach 20 points and make it 61-45. Ivanov took his own tally to 20 with his fifth successful three-pointer as the clinical Bulgarian fought desperately to drag Sibui back into the game. However, Palyza was in remarkable form and would not stop scoring for the hosts, concluding the quarter with a splendid three to give Gladiators a 72-56 lead going into the last period.
There was to be no repeat of the tense fourth quarter seen in Romania last month as Gladiators completed a dominant display with an assured final ten minutes. Murray’s side toyed with their opposition scoring basket after basket to see out the game in style. Palyza kept up his fine form with another early three while Trent Buttrick made his mark on the game with a couple of his own.
It wasn’t for the lack of trying by Sibiu who were constantly roared on by their few faithful supporters, but they could not muster any more than 11 points in the last quarter and Gladiators finished the evening with an impressive 29-point lead.
Whelan may feel slightly hard done by after his inspiring first-half spectacle, but with 17 points and 10 assists, later claiming it was his first career double-double, it’s no wonder why Palyza was awarded the game MVP.
This result sets up an exciting encounter against Anwil Wloclawek next week as Gladiators know a win in Poland would give them a great chance to qualify for the second round, despite their current struggle in the points differential category.
Before that though it’s a return to league action for Gladiators who host Sheffield Sharks at the PlaySport Arena on Saturday. Get your tickets on the FanBase app here!