Report by Robbie Macdonald

After Wednesday’s inspiring victory over Derby Trailblazers to book their place in the BBL Trophy final it was back to league action for Caledonia Gladiators who made the 417-mile journey south to face the bottom of the table Surrey Scorchers who they had beaten just last week.

However, Scorchers looked like a completely different team tonight and saw off the visitors with an impressive 99-92 victory which they kept in the lead for the entire match.

Surrey started the better of the two sides opening the match with an eight-point scoring run that included back-to-back dunks from Shakem Johnson.  This developed into an early 13-5 causing Gareth Murray to use his first time-out just two and a half minutes in.

Things went from bad to worse for Gladiators though who could not find any momentum as the home side kept up the pressure restricting their biggest scoring run to four. Padiet Wang was the main attacking threat for Scorchers. The South Sudan international finished the quarter with 12 points and 4 assists to help his team to a 35-19 lead going into the break.

Caledonia came back out fighting and quickly cut the deficit to 12 with two quickfire layups. The hot streak didn’t last long, however, as Josh McFolley converted his side’s seventh three-pointer of the game. This failed to disrupt the visitors’ flow and Gladiators immediately responded with an eight-point scoring run to pull themselves back within seven points.

This was as close as the away team would get though as Surrey kept finding ways to the basket to the frustration of their opposition. Following a period of back-and-forth between the sides, Scorchers rediscovered their first-quarter form in the final two minutes of the half and earned themselves a 15-point lead with back-to-back three-pointers from Wang and Tayo Ogedengbe. Princeton Onwas scored a three-pointer for Caledonia but another free-throw from Wang ensured the home team would go into half-time with a 53-40.

The third quarter began similarly to the second with both teams trading baskets without managing to build any significant runs.

But things would only get harder for Gladiators five minutes into the period. Having had a good game with seven points and two assists Jeremiah Bailey was ejected after receiving two technical fouls. Scorchers capitalised with an immediate five-point scoring run to increase their advantage to 15.

Fahro Alihodzic tried to mount a comeback with a couple of successive free throws but a fantastic fourth three-pointer from Ogedengbe grew his tally to 16 whilst raising his team’s lead to the same margin. A quick six-point scoring run dragged Caledonia back within ten which they managed to cut to 73-65 by the end of the quarter.

Murray’s side took their momentum straight into the final quarter and almost turned the game on its head with a seven-point scoring spree to make it 73-72 and set up an agonisingly close end to the match. Ogedengbe had other ideas though scoring yet another three-pointer to regain an advantage of four.

Both teams again traded baskets as the clock ticked away with Surrey just about managing to cling onto their precious lead. The crucial moment came 19 seconds from time. Patrick Tape drove into the paint in search of a lay-up that would have cut the difference to just one point. Johnson rose beautifully though and made a vital block which led to a driving lay-up that left Gladiators five points behind.

Aljami Durham scored a nice jump shot to give the away side a slim chance of a comeback but that would all end moments later when officials judged David Sloan to have made an intentional foul and sent Scorchers to the free-throw line with eight seconds to go, much to the protest of the travelling bench. McFolley converted both free throws before Wang concluded the game with two of his own to give Surrey just their third win of the season.

Despite the loss, Onwas was one of the standouts for Caledonia. The American was awarded MVP for his performance which included 13 points, one assist and three rebounds.

This result is a bit of a setback for Gladiators who only sit above Manchester Giants on points-difference in a coveted top-four position. They will look to bounce back tomorrow afternoon in what will be a tough match-up at league leaders London Lions. Tip-off is at 4:00 pm at Copper Box Arena.