Report by Daniel Gilfoyle
The Caledonia Gladiators won the BBL Trophy against the holders, Cheshire Phoenix, 73-70, thanks to a last-second shot from David Sloan.
Pregame, the Gladiators looked to grab silverware for the first time in 20 years. Everything had changed since then, and they ended the drought against a very tough Cheshire side.
Fahro Alihodzic won tip-off and went on the offense immediately but eventually turned it over. The Phoenix drew up their own play, but that resulted in a turnover. After almost two minutes, the Phoenix opened up the scoring after Onwas was handed a goaltending violation. Onwas drained a three for the Gladiators, ending a 6-0 run from the Phoenix. Despite being down, the Gladiators managed to rally back and get the lead with 1:32 left in the first quarter with a Durham lay-up. Phoenix won the first quarter 19-18. Durham missed a free throw to tie the game but converted the other one with 3.2 seconds left to make it a one-point game.
The second quarter for the Gladiators started off with a Bailey three-pointer to tie the game up at 21 each after Anderson extended Cheshire’s lead by two. The period was full of Cheshire extending their lead, Caledonia getting within touching distance of the lead, then Cheshire building on an advantage again. But with three minutes left, Fraser came through clutch with back-to-back corner threes. Bailey then let it rip from downtown, Fraser blocked a Cheshire lay-up, and then Sloan scored a lay-up to make it a two-point game. Cheshire only extended their lead by one in the second period, so the game was still wide open.
In the first half, two major points were going wrong for Caledonia: the number of fouls (eleven) and turnovers (eight). Luckily, on the side of turnovers, the Phoenix only scored three fast break points. Cheshire however scored 11 of their 15 free throws. One statline going Caledonia’s way was the three-pointers. Both teams attempted nine in the first half, Cheshire only managed to make one compared to Caledonia’s five.
To start the second half, Onwas tied it up for the Gladiators before Anderson got the lead back in the Phoenix’s hands. Jimenez drained a three to tie the game, Alihodzic tipped the ball in to give the Gladiators the lead again, Evans gave the lead straight back to his side, but Bailey drained two free throws before slamming it home to finally extend a Caledonia lead. More back and forth ended the third, but the Gladiators eventually gained the lead going into the fourth, a sign of the times. After 30 minutes, the Scottish side led by a sole point, 56-57.
With an all-important final quarter ahead, both teams knew what was at stake – for Cheshire, it would mean they became back-to-back champions, but for Caledonia, the organization’s first trophy since 2002/03.
The defense was intense right from the off, the Gladiators forcing the Phoenix out of any points for two minutes. Alihodzic then broke the scoring deadlock, with Bailey laying it up on a fast break to extend it. Cheshire then got back in and retook the lead, forcing the Gladiators to fight to stay in it. Big man Will Neighbour connected from deep to give the Phoenix a five-point lead with two and a half minutes to go. It seemed like it was out of reach, but it wasn’t.
Onwas hit a three to get it to two points, Cheshire guard Larry Austin travelled and then, with thirty seconds left on the clock, Prince Onwas came in clutch again as he tied the game up with his impressive spinning lay-up. After a missed shot falling out of bounds for Cheshire with minimal time left on the clock, Sloan drove into the paint, kicked it out to Onwas, back to Sloan on the three point line and, with the clock expiring, he won the game in outstanding fashion for the Caledonia Gladiators, a shot immortalised in Scottish basketball history.
Jeremiah Bailey was awarded the MVP, and given Molten’s golden basketball upon the game’s conclusion. His 16 point, 8 rebound and 4 assist outing was pinnacle to the Gladiators’ historical victory.
Next up, Gareth Murray’s BBL side take on Manchester Giants this Sunday in the BBL Championship – TICKETS. Also, Miguel Ortega’s WBBL side welcome Sheffield Hatters to town on Sunday 9th April – TICKETS