Report via British Basketball League
The Gladiators-Phoenix rivalry, although pre-dating last season’s Trophy final, certainly seemed to reach fever pitch with that final David Sloan buzzer beater and the Phoenix would be looking to exact some form of revenge in tonight’s matchup.
Caledonia Gladiators: Ian Dubose, Princeton Onwas, Patrick Whelan, Clifton Moore Jr., Lukáš Palyza.
Cheshire Phoenix: LaQuincy Rideau, Maceo Jack, Aaryn Rai, Ethan Chargois, Skyler White.
After a very competitive start to the fixture, it was the Cheshire Phoenix that seemed to take a slight control, hitting the Gladiators with their trademark speed and quickness.
Gladiators Head Coach Gareth Murray was forced to take an early time out, trailing by 5 and after some adjustments, the home side managed to tie things up, thanks to impressive plays from Patrick Whelan and Clifton Moore.
The Phoenix had an answer for every Gladiator basket, however, and shared the ball effectively, with Maceo Jack, Ethan Chargois and Cam Holden all contributing to the score.
The Phoenix also grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the opening quarter and took a slender 2-point lead into the second quarter.
The second quarter was also a tight affair, with neither team able to wrestle control from the other. The quarter ebbed and flowed as another classic performance from the two rival sides unfolded, with 4 points being the largest margin between the teams.
Clifton Moore led all scorers at this point with 12, but he would be the only player in double figures, as both teams played excellent team basketball.
Caledonia looked as though they might take a 5-point lead into the second half after an and one play from Princeton Onwas, only for Skyler White to hit one of his trademark three-pointers, making the score 45-43 to the home team.S
The tempo and competitive drive between these two teams did not alter after the interval. White poured in 8 points in the opening minutes of the third quarter, but he was matched by Lukáš Palyza who hit back-to-back threes, as the home side managed to maintain a slight advantage over their visitors.
Then, when Whelan scored 5 unanswered points, including a driving and one layup, the Gladiators held a 7 point advantage, their largest of the night.
Palyza would soon increase that to 9 points after nailing a three and it looked like Caledonia were in control.
But Cheshire had other ideas. They remained calm and Head Coach Ben Thomas showed faith in his team, who rewarded him with a 7-0 run, getting them back in the game.
Fahro Alihodzic restored a three-point lead from the free throw line, but White stepped up again with a game-tying three of his own, taking his personal tally to 20 points, setting up a picture-perfect fourth quarter with the scores tied 69-69.
To the home side’s dismay, it was the Phoenix that took the initiative at the start of the fourth, as they went on a 9-0 run, opening their biggest lead and the largest margin between the two teams of the night.
The Gladiators needed a spark and they would get one in the form of Whelan, who was fouled whilst shooting a three-pointer and went to the line for three foul shots. He sank all three, closing the lead to 6 points.
The Phoenix managed to pull away again, as the game headed into the last four minutes of the fourth quarter, and LaQuincy Rideau managed to knock down two free throws to put the Phoenix up by 10 points and in the driving seat.
The Gladiators, however, would not go quietly into the night as they showed their depth in quality, with big plays from Palyza, Moore, Onwas and Whelan cutting Cheshire’s lead to 6 points.
Still, the game seemed slightly out of the Gladiator’s reach, that is until Onwas stepped up and hit a huge three inside the last minute of the game.
Palyza then grabbed an all-important steal, followed by a game-tying three from none other than Whelan.
The dying seconds saw chances for both teams to take the win, but the ball wouldn’t drop for either, sending the game to overtime.
Overtime was once again nip and tuck, with no clear advantage to either side. The two rival teams continued to battle it out throughout the bonus five minutes.
It wasn’t until the game went into its final minute, that the visiting Phoenix managed to take a slight advantage after a driving layup from Rideau, followed by Aayrn Rai hitting one of two free throws after a clock-stopping foul from Bothwell.
Clifton Moore then scored a layup of his own with just 22 seconds remaining, cutting Cheshire’s lead to 2 points. Rideau then missed a layup to seal the win, allowing the Gladiators to tie the game, or take the lead.
Rideau managed to steal the ball back from Bothwell with 5 seconds remaining before he was fouled and sent to the line for two free throws. There was still an element of drama in the last second, as Rideau missed the second free throw, giving Moore one last Hail Mary attempt to tie the game and send it into a second overtime.
It fell short and the Cheshire Phoenix grabbed the all-important win 97-100.
The rivalry continues, with yet another classic clash between the Caledonia Gladiators and the Cheshire Phoenix. The only way these two teams can meet again is if they both progress to the Trophy Final Four weekend on January 27-28, and it will need to be a repeat of last year as both will need to make the Final for that to happen.