Scorchers secure first win of the season while Flyers and Riders protect home court

BBL Championship
Bristol Flyers 89-79 Caledonia Gladiators (23-10, 46-26, 70-55)
(Flyers – Mahan 19, Olison 18, King 16; Gladiators – Sloan 37, Onwas 15, Tape 11)

BBL Championship
Newcastle Eagles 74-79 Surrey Scorchers (16-18, 31-38, 51-50)
(Eagles – Hamlet 18, Johnson 16, Everett 13; Scorchers – Martin 20, Wang 19, Taylor 15)

BBL Championship
Leicester Riders 89-85 Cheshire Phoenix (17-17, 38-40, 67-61)
(Riders – Whelan 16, Jackson 15, Nelson-Henry 14; Phoenix – Evans 15, Austin 14, Teague 14)

The first match to tip this evening was between Bristol Flyers and Caledonia Gladiators, 15 minutes before the other two. The game started nervy for both teams, with defences firmly on top and both sides struggling offensively, evident from the fact that after the first four minutes, the score was just 4-4.

That’s when Bristol started to heat up however, first with an And-1 from Brandon Mahan and then on the next play again an And-1, this time from Vincent King. The American former G-League player missed his free throw, but Mahan grabbed the offensive rebound, passed it to Tevin Olison, who drained the corner 3, putting his team up 12-6.

From there Flyers just continued playing tough D, only allowing Caledonia to score six points in eight minutes, while at the same time pushing the ball up the floor and scoring with high percentages – 50% from behind the arc due to their good ball rotation.

The start of the second quarter saw an offensive explosion by the home side, that quickly rushed ahead by 20 points (30-10), in part due to their excellent long-range shooting – 5/8 from behind the 6.75m line. Gladiators on the other hand were really struggling with their 3-point shooting, being 0/11.

Bristol continued to be excellent on the offensive transition, pushing the ball very quickly up the court and catching their opponents unaware, such as when King had an open lay up off an assist by Malcolm Delpeche.

Flyers’ hustle on defence forced Caledonia to take very tough shots, leading to their poor field goal percentage of just 19% half-way through the second period. That’s when the home side – in front of another sell-out crowd – capitalised and led by as many as 24 points (38-14), which marked their highest lead of the game.

The Scots managed to balance the game towards the end of the half and went on a 6-0 run, forcing Coach Kapoulas to call a time-out. Whatever he told his team clearly worked, as Bristol went back to that tenacious D that saw them restrict their opponents to very little scoring, and managed to get a turnover off a shot clock violation.

Flyers continued to shoot the lights out to close out the half, finishing with an incredible 64% from 3-point range, while Caledonia struggled big time with just 7%.

Gladiators came out all guns blazing in the second half, similar to their game last week, with their offense much improved compared to the first half – scoring more points in the third quarter than they did in the first two combined.

The Scots’ defence tightened up – resulting in a game total of 12 steals – which enabled them to push the ball a lot more on the transition. David Sloan was one of the main beneficiaries of that, constantly running down the court to lay it in, forcing Bristol to call a time-out with just two minutes played in the third.

Flyers always found a way to fight back against Caledonia’s charge, led by their defence (a common feature throughout the game), which then allowed them to run the floor and make easy baskets, just like when King dunked it to bring the lead back up to 20 (55-35). At the same time Mahan was continuing to shoot 3s like he had a point to prove, being 5/5 and keeping his team firmly in control.

The visitors continued in the fourth from where they had left off in the third, playing with a lot more energy than they had in the first half, particularly on the defensive end. They would constantly harass their opponents by putting their hands in every play and would often come away with a steal and a fast break, led by their MVP Sloan who scored a scintillating 37 points.

Their performance improved so much that they managed to half the deficit and even brought it down to a single digit game for the first time since the first quarter, when Patrick Tape laid the ball in.

Flyers weren’t going to let the W slip through their hands however, especially considering how hard they had worked and off the back of two back-to-back 3s – by Mike Miller and Jelani Watson-Gayle – brought their lead back up to 14 (82-68), with just over three-and-a-half minutes to play.

From there, despite Caledonia’s best efforts, Bristol managed to keep hold of the dub and tie the series at one apiece, moving to a record of 6-3, while the Scots dropped to 3-4.

Meanwhile in the evening’s second of three matches, Newcastle Eagles took on Surrey Scorchers, with both teams looking for a win that would help them move up from the bottom of the table. The two teams were neck and neck right from the tip, with the visitors edging the first quarter by just two points.

The second period was very similar, once again seeing Surrey outscore Newcastle by only a few points, going into half time up by seven and looking like they could very well get their first W of the season.

However, Eagles weren’t about to lie down and let that happen, especially in front of their loyal crowd at the Vertu Motors Arena, outscoring their opponents by eight points in the third quarter, only allowing Scorchers to score 12 points.

The visitors, who had travelled over 300 miles for this game were going to make the most of their opportunity to get their first dub of the season, something which they managed to do, scoring a game high 29 points in the final quarter. Ryan Martin and Padiet Wang both put up excellent numbers with 20 and 19 points respectively, helping to lead their team to that all important icebreaking first win and a 1-6 record, while Newcastle dropped to 2-6.

The third of this evening’s games featured Leicester Riders and Cheshire Phoenix, with the home team just one spot above their opponents in the championship standings. In what was another close game – similar to the one played in Newcastle – there was nothing to separate the two teams in the first quarter, with the score tied at 17 apiece.

The second period was also very evenly matched, with Cheshire edging it 21-23 due to a lay up by Maceo Jack with 13 seconds left and went into half time up by two points (38-40).

The third quarter saw Leicester come out with a point to prove, something that they achieved, scoring a game high 29 points and taking a six point lead going into the final period.

They managed to hold onto that lead throughout the final 10 minutes, despite Phoenix managing to bring the difference down to a one possession game when Marcus Evans made a 3-pointer with just over a minute to play. However, Riders managed to see the game out after some clutch free throws by Darien Nelson-Henry and Zach Jackson, moving to 5-3 for the season, while Cheshire dropped to 4-6.

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