Watson-Gayle gifts Flyers road win, Gladiators pull off third straight victory, Riders triumph against Giants in OT

BBL Championship

Surrey Scorchers 85 – 93 Bristol Flyers (31-26, 45-48, 66-70)

(Scorchers: Lawrence/Wang, 17; Jacdonmi/Johnson, 12; Taylor, 11 – Flyers: Watson-Gayle, 24; Delpeche, 19; King, 15)

Caledonia Gladiators 77 – 60 B. Braun Sheffield Sharks (21-12, 40-27, 57-43)

(Gladiators: Sloan, 21; Bailey, 15; Onwas, 11 – Sharks: Banks Jr., 17; Koch, 10; Nichols/Sako, 8)

Manchester Giants 82 – 89 Leicester Riders (19-21, 44-49, 60-61, 75-75)

(Giants: Fletcher, 20; Roberson/Williams, 19; Green, 18 – Riders: Jackson, 21; Loving, 19; Mackenzie, 15)

In the first of three captivating matchups, the Bristol Flyers hung on for a close single-digit win over the Surrey Scorchers 85-93.

Lifted by a tremendous performance from rookie guard Jelani Watson-Gayle, who tallied 24 points from the bench, the Flyers were victorious.

By no means an easy win for the visiting Flyers, the game got off to a hot start for the Scorchers, as Andrew Lawrence managed to get the scoring started with a smooth mid-ranged effort.

Surrey added to their attack with Padiet Wang acrobatically cutting to basket for a handful of layups and a couple of baseline dunks as well.

Elsewhere for the hosts, versatile forwards Ryan Martin and Charleston Dobbs were poised from beyond-the-arc.

Entered Watson-Gayle, who found his range immediately, converting three perimeter shots with ease.

Bristol also benefited from Thomas Bell Iii, as the rookie forward was able to muscle his way inside for layups galore, taking many trips to the free-throw line in the process.

It was all to play for as the visitors maintained a small three-point lead heading into halftime, Watson-Gayle with 20 points to his name already.

Spearheading the Flyers in the third, dominant centre Malcolm Delpeche got to the rim in style, going 75% from the field on his way to 19 points.

Undeterred, Surrey switched on the defensive intensity, beginning with a monster rejection by big man Boban Jacdonmi to deny Bristol a scoring opportunity.

A couple of possessions later, Shakem Johnson, a rookie out of Tennessee St., managed to force the visitors to fumble the ball, allowing Johnson to steal and convert an athletic dunk on the other end.

On top of valiant defence, Surrey ramped up their attack with Quincy Taylor, whose speed and confidence resulted in a crucial tying layup as the game headed into the final five minutes.

Resurfacing again, Bell III was able to drive the ball inside fiercely, drawing the contact to get to the free-throw line and knock-down valuable buckets to put the visitors ahead.

Unable to carve out a last-minute comeback, the Scorchers were forced to accept defeat, as Bristol improved to nine wins from 14 games played, sitting third overall in the standings.

But with optimism surrounding the returns of guards Jalen Ray and Josh Steel to the Sports Park, Surrey will be back to winning ways in 2023.

At the Emirates Arena, the Caledonia Gladiators finished with a comfortable victory over B. Braun Sheffield Sharks (77-60), with a great start cementing their third consecutive home win.

Leading all scorers with 21, Gladiators guard David Sloan proved a spectacle to the loud and proud Glaswegian crowd, also tallying eight assists and four steals.

Off the back of being named BBL’s Player of the Week, Pacific alumni Jeremiah Bailey supplied another emphatic performance, scoring 15 points, as well as collecting 10 rebounds, and dishing out four assists.

The opening minutes of the game were controlled by Caledonia, mustering an 11-0 advantage before the Sharks could register their first points.

Sharpshooter Kyle Jimenez was a major contributor to the Gladiators’ early lead, pairing effectively with Sloan to convert a deep three-point shot as well as a graceful floating jumper.

As the Sharks struggled for an opening, young talent Hensy Sako emerged off the bench to give the visitors a spark.

Shortly following a layup from Channel Banks Jr., Sako pestered the Gladiators attack, forcing a turnover and punishing the hosts with an uncontested layup.

Bennett Koch, the big man out of Northern Iowa, used his size and strength to get the trailing visitors some much-needed points, but despite this, still headed into the locker rooms trailing.

The Gladiators continued to sustain their double-figure advantage during the third quarter, as Bailey continued Caledonia’s attacking barrage, while Jonny Bunyan came off the bench to drill home two gutsy three-point efforts.

Caledonia rounded up the game as rightful winners, though Sheffield pressured the Scottish powerhouse to the end.

Recording their third consecutive home win, the Gladiators now boast seven wins for from 13 games played, while the Sharks edge closer to becoming the third team to register double-figure defeats.

The last game of the day featured reigning BBL champions Leicester Riders as they made the trip north to play the Manchester Giants, who hadn’t hosted a championship game since October.

A classic neck-and-next contest that was decided by an overtime period, Leicester came out on top (82-89) behind a solid performance from Zach Jackson, who notched a game-high 21 points.

Hotly contested from the start, the home crowd erupted as veteran sharpshooter Dirk Williams recorded the first two points of the ball game.

Following on from that, floor general Rahmon Fletcher showed why he is a two-time BBL MVP recipient, pouring in back-to-back three-point efforts to give the hosts an early boost.

Leicester replied with a handful of well-executed buckets, beginning with a lights-out shot from guard Kimbal Mackenzie after Patrick Whelan battled ferociously for the offensive rebound.

Whelan began to get comfortable shooting from all areas of the floor, with Marc Loving cleaning up the offensive boards nicely.

The lead continued to switch hands continuously heading into the second quarter as a battle of the shooters began to materialise.

Navigating his way through the Giants defence, Loving located Jubril Adekoya who was waiting and ready for a wide-open three-point conversion to put the Riders ahead.

On the very next possession, Williams found Anthony Roberson free and available to knock-down a three of his own, quickly tying things up once again.

A rampant effort by both sides had the Riders in front by a whisker at halftime.

Despite an energetic start for both teams entering the second half, the Riders were evidently the freshest starting the third quarter.

A 12-2 start to the third quarter gave the away side a huge edge, as they forced the Giants into a scoring drought until star forward Tajh Green found himself heading to the free-throw line.

But with consecutive three-pointers drained by Green and Roberson, the leading Riders suddenly saw their advantage crippled to just a single point heading into the fourth quarter.

The final period witnessed back-and-forth action as both teams tried desperately to salvage victory.

Leicester captain Darien Nelson-Henry found himself getting into a great position on the low block, drawing fouls and converting well from the line to put the Riders ahead by a handful once again.

Proving relentless, however, the home team replied with a pair of clutch shots as the long-ranged shooting of Fletcher and Nick Lewis proved difficult to contain for their opponents.

A physical end to regular time, Adekoya’s single free-throw tied up the game and put the two sides into overtime.

Akin to the opening quarter, Williams got the extra five minutes off to a bang with a long-ranged effort.

Manchester took a temporary lead, before Leicester hit back with a spree of points capped off by another Mackenzie three-point conversion.

The Giants struggled to convert from the free-throw line in the closing minutes as the Riders held on for a nail-biting finish.

Leicester’s slim win takes them to 10 wins for the season, equalling league leaders London Lions.

Meanwhile, Manchester pickup their fifth loss of the 22-23 campaign but with a handful of games in-hand to rise up the standings.

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