Gladiators and Sharks edge out thrillers and clinch spots in BBL Trophy semi-finals

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BBL Trophy
Caledonia Gladiators 52 – 50 London Lions (14-17, 17-9, 10-10, 11-14)
(Gladiators – Durham 24, Onwas 8, Tape/Bunyan 6; Lions – Ward-Hibbert 14, Hruban 7, Best/Weluche 6)

BBL Trophy
Leicester Riders 78 – 79 B. Braun Sheffield Sharks (20-26, 24-13, 14-23, 20-17)
(Riders – Jackson 18, Mackenzie 15, Loving 13; Sharks – Nichols 19, Koch 18, Ratinho 10)

In the first of tonight’s two BBL Trophy games, the Caledonia Gladiators welcomed the London Lions to the Emirates Arena for a BBL Trophy game, and edged out an incredibly hard-fought win, 52-50, in what proved to be the third lowest scoring game across all BBL competitions in history.

The Gladiators – who posted the lowest score by a winning team in BBL history – were led by Aljami Durham with 24 points, while Josh Ward-Hibbert led the Lions with 14 points and eight rebounds.

The game started with both defences locked in. Caledonia’s restricted London to just four points in the first five minutes. 

The Scots had a clear game plan of making life as difficult as possible for the Londoners with their intense D, before then pushing the ball off steals or defensive rebounds.

A long offensive rebound by Mo Soluade and a dish to Vojtěch Hruban allowed the Czech star to drain a pull-up three, giving the Lions a much-needed boost and bringing them to within one point (8-7).

The home side were on top for much of the first quarter – led by their tough defence – that forced another Lions turnover, before Durham scored on the fast break (12-9), forcing London Coach Schmidt into a timeout.

He turned to his bench with just under three minutes to go, and brought on big man Josh Sharma with the hope of changing things.

This sub made all the difference, with the 7ft centre dominating on the defensive end with his rim protection, restricting the Gladiators to just three points until the end of the first period.

The 26-year-old also contributed on the offensive end, scoring a runner hook shot on the buzzer to close out the first 10 minutes of play with the Lions ahead 14-17.

The second quarter saw the hosts play with the same defensive intensity, making their opponents’ life incredibly difficult – restricting them to just nine points in the entire period.

The Lions on the other hand tried to implement a zone defence, but Caledonia managed to break it brilliantly on two occasions.

First with Jeremiah Bailey finding a cutting Princeton Onwas for the easy two, and then Jonny Bunyan doing the same and dishing to Patrick Tape under the basket (22-23).

With the score tied at 26, the Gladiators missed a couple of chances to take their first lead of the second quarter, but then Bailey stepped up and drove hard to the basket, laying it in and putting his team ahead 28-26.

The final 80 seconds of the half only got better for Caledonia, as a steal by Tape allowed Durham to run the fast break and score an and-one off the euro step, extending the lead to five (31-26), before the two teams headed to the locker rooms.

The third quarter was another defence-focused 10 minutes, with the two sides making scoring very difficult.

The Gladiators managed to get their largest lead of the game (33-26) within the first two minutes of the second half, when Durham jump stopped and used his pivot foot excellently, to send his defender flying, before laying it in.

The Lions – coming off a huge EuroCup win on Wednesday that saw them qualify for the playoffs – weren’t just going to give up.

Ward-Hibbert hit a nearly impossible three from the edge of the side-line, with his defender hanging off him, bringing his team back to within four (35-31).

Led by their zone defence – which significantly slowed down the hosts’ offence – London brought the difference to just a single possession (37-35).

They couldn’t take the lead, however, and with scoring limited for both teams, the Gladiators went into the final 10 minutes up 41-36.

The fourth quarter started in the best way for the visitors, with Luke Nelson hitting a big shot from downtown to make it a two-point game (41-39).

That was the start of a 7-0 run for the Lions, who managed to take their first lead (41-43) since the second quarter, when Sharma intercepted a pass and rushed down the floor for a massive jam.

The two teams then exchanged free throws, before Tape gave the Gladiators a two-point lead with two-and-a-half minutes left, when he scored with a reverse hook shot from under the basket.

That’s when 18-year-old Zamoku Weluche stepped up for the Lions and hit a huge three, to give them the lead once again (46-47), with 90 seconds left.

Tape wasn’t done, and on the very next play, he posted up Ward-Hibbert, before his hook shot gave Caledonia the lead again (48-47).

Durham – the game’s top scorer – then gave his team a three-point cushion (50-47) when he crossed Jonathan Komagum and finished a tough layup, with 18 seconds left.

The two sides then exchanged free throws, before Soluade missed his second one on purpose with 4.8 seconds left and the score 52-50, in order to give the Lions the chance at an offensive rebound.

That’s exactly what happened as the ball went out of bounds for the visitors, but Bradley Kaboza’s triple was off the mark from the inbound, giving Caledonia the W.

With this dub, the Gladiators advanced to the Trophy semi-finals, where they will face off against the winner of the Plymouth – Derby match-up.

In tonight’s second Trophy game, the B. Braun Sheffield Sharks travelled to the East Midlands to face the Leicester Riders and managed to also edge out an incredibly close game, 78-79.

The Sharks were led by Kipper Nichols and Bennett Koch – who scored 19 and 18 points, respectively.

Zach Jackson’s 18 points were not enough to help the Riders to victory.

In complete contrast to the Caledonia – London game, the match in Leicester was a much higher scoring affair, with the two sides going right at each other from the off.

A quick 8-2 run by Sheffield gave the visitors an early six-point lead within the first two minutes of action, when Devearl Ramsey laid it in.

Leicester quickly fought back and got their noses in front (11-10) when Aaron Menzies made a layup with six-and-a-half minutes to go.

The two sides then exchanged buckets and leads for the next three-and-a-half minutes, before a 5-0 run by the Sharks gave them a 21-26 lead to close out the first quarter.

The second period saw the home side step up their defence, restricting their opponents to half the points they had scored in the first (13), outscoring them by 11.

A 9-0 run saw Leicester get their largest lead of the game so far (39-32) when Marc Loving converted both of his free throws.

Although the Sharks managed to find their scoring touch again in the final couple of minutes of the first half, the Riders kept scoring and went into the break ahead by five (44-39).

The third quarter saw another swing of the pendulum, this time with the visitors restricting their opponents to just 14 points, while they scored 23.

A 6-0 run by Sheffield saw them take their first lead of the second half and that was culminated when Jordan Ratinho made a layup with three minutes left in the third (54-57).

The two teams then exchanged baskets in the final couple of minutes, with the Yorkshire side taking a four-point lead going into the final 10 minutes (58-62).

Although the momentum seemed to have swung in favour of the Sharks, the Riders fought hard to bring it back and took the lead again when Jackson scored a layup (68-67), six minutes before the final buzzer.

Sheffield didn’t let their heads drop though and went on a 7-0 run – capped off by a triple from Rodney Glasgow Jr, giving them a six-point lead (68-74), with four minutes left of action.

It was Leicester’s turn to dig deep and fight back, managing to tie the game at 78 apiece when Kimbal Mackenzie made both free throws with 90 seconds left. 

The two sides then missed a shot each, before Sa’eed Nelson was sent to the line after a foul by Mackenzie, with 50 seconds left.

The American guard hit 1/2 and gave his team a one-point advantage (78-79), which proved to be the final score after the Riders failed to score on their final two possessions.

With this win, the Sharks move onto the Trophy semi-finals, where they await the winner of the Surrey – Cheshire game.