Home comforts await Caledonia as they reach BBL Trophy Final
Derby Trailblazers 65-83 Caledonia Gladiators (24-24, 36-40, 50-58)
(Trailblazers: Smith, 39; Dietreich, 10; May-Thompson, 7 — Gladiators: Sloan, 22; Fraser, 15; Onwas, 10)
Caledonia Gladiators weathered a tough challenge from NBL Division 1 side Derby Trailblazers at the Clarence Wiggins Sports Centre, but prevailed 83-65 to reach the BBL Trophy Final.
David Sloan led the Gladiators with 22 points and nine rebounds, whilst Fraser added 15 points to lift Caledonia to a final that takes place at their home venue of the Emirates Arena in Glasgow.
Malcolm Smith was the standout performance for the Trailblazers, pouring in an efficient 39 points on 15//21 shooting and grabbing ten rebounds. However, Caledonia were the bigger side and used their size advantage well inside.
They outrebounded their opponents 57-46, shooting 41% from the field. Patrick Tape opened up the scoring with a putback dunk. The big man was still influential on the boards and found his teammates for several open shots.
The Trailblazers sensing the match-up nightmare of Tape, sent double teams his way all night.
Smith got on the scoreboard first for Derby before Raheem May-Thompson knocked down a smooth mid-post bank shot. The teams were evenly matched in the first quarter, trading baskets before Sloan connected on back-to-back shots to get himself going.
In the second period, a huge block from Tape ignites a scoring streak from the seven-footer, who scored four quick points inside. The Gladiators also built their largest lead of eight points with six minutes remaining.
Fraser Malcom scored a dunk inside off the pretty pass from Sloan, and Fahro Alihodzic exhibited some patient work in the post-scoring.
Both teams went scoreless for a few minutes in the second half before Ryan Bruggeman snapped the streak. Derby’s stifling defence left Caledonia unable to capitalise on the dry spell.
Igniting his team, Smith scored off his own miss under pressure, however Sloan responded quickly at the other end, shaking his defender with an in-out dribble and finding Fraser for the and-one finish in the paint, allowing the Gladiators to build up a 12-point lead.
Smith went on an offensive onslaught to close the half, connecting on a tough fadeaway and hitting a difficult put-back whilst almost on the ground.
Tape scored inside to spark an 11-2 run for the visitors, yet Smith responded as he willed his team back into the game, making tough shots and difficult fadeaways.
Scores for Princeton Onwas and Fraser pushed the Caledonia lead back to 11 points with a minute remaining. But Smith again clapped back with another four points.
Smith pushed his total to 31 points in the fourth quarter, opening with a driving floater in the lane.
However, Derby could not connect on the three-point shots, leaving a scoring gulf between them and the Gladiators, which was proving difficult to recover.
However, at the other end, Fraser danced around his defender with nimble footwork and scored an and-one to extend the lead back to 13 points.
More heroics from Smith saw Derby cut the lead to single digits. With Sloan managing the show, he pushed into gear in the fourth, finding his teammates and scoring on a downhill drive through May-Thompson.
With only three minutes remaining, captain Jonny Bunyan nailed a dagger three, and the Trailblazers could not recover.
Tune in Sunday to catch the second semi-final as the Cheshire Phoenix take on the Sheffield Sharks.