Whelan entertains Gladiators, Bristol battles past Surrey

BBL Championship
Bristol Flyers 78-60 Surrey Scorchers (15-12, 21-21, 24-19, 18-8)
Flyers – Bell 19, Delpeche 15, multiple 11; Scorchers – Martin 15, Jefferson 13, Johnson 11

Leicester Riders 100-67 Caledonia Gladiators (21-20, 30-15, 28-18, 21-14)
Riders – Whelan 25, Thornton 16, Loving 11; Gladiators – Malcolm 12, Burns 12, Sloan

Bristol Flyers triumphed 78-60 over Surrey Scorchers at the SGS College Arena, while Leicester Riders gained a measure of revenge on Caledonia Gladiators with a 100-67 win at the Morningside Arena on Friday night.

Final scores don’t always tell the story of a basketball game, but sometimes they do – and tonight, fans were treated to both. 

While the 18-point Flyers win over the Scorchers signifies a competitive contest – with Thomas Bell overcoming good defence from the visitors at SGS College Arena to score 19 – the comfortable Leicester Riders win over the Caledonia Gladiators was a more dominant affair.

The Riders got some payback after dropping two games to the Scottish outfit thanks to 25 points from Patrick Whelan, who was on form from start to finish for Leicester. 

It’s tough for any team to enter the SGS College Arena in Bristol to take on the Flyers. The home team was tied at the top of the BBL Championship standings on points heading into Friday night’s clash.

That might have been intimidating to the Surrey Scorchers – who were at the bottom of the table – but the visitors didn’t show any such signs of hesitancy and came out of the gates with energy to take an early lead.

It was Quincy Taylor who hit the game’s opener with a big three, but Josh Jefferson assisted him on the kickout. He also made his presence on defence by stealing the ball away from a Tevin Olison turnover and Jefferson raced downcourt for a lay-up.

The home team settled down and got back into it by controlling the boards. It was captain Malcolm Delpeche, especially on the offensive end, muscling his way into offensive rebounds on multiple occasions to go back up for contested buckets twice in the opening few minutes.

This helped his Flyers take control of the first quarter and they finished it ahead 15-12.

It stayed competitive throughout the first half, and while the Bristol lead opened up slightly, the Scorchers were still fighting and moving the ball well – this meant Padiet Wang could get into the lane and find Ryan Martin for three, which caused Flyers coach Andreas Kapoulas to call a timeout to reset the defence. 

Surrey adapted and looked for post-ups when the three-point shots weren’t falling. They struggled to get the ball into Shakem Johnson on the low block, but by pitching it back up to the top of the key, Martin was able to float the pass over the top for the big man to hit a layup and cut the deficit to three

Soon enough, the game was tied up by Andrew Lawrence, who was fouled on a three-point shot and calmly sunk all three at the line.

Before the end of the half, Bristol edged ahead, but the game was clearly up for grabs.

It took a minute for the first points to be scored in the second half, but within the next 90 seconds, Bell punctuated a good spell for the Flyers with a smooth step-back three.

Bristol kept up the momentum, and Delpeche got his offensive rebound-score combination of the quarter, followed by a lay up from VJ King.

Surrey coach Lloyd Gardner wanted to slow this down and called a timeout, but his team faced full court pressure on the way out.

The Scorchers battled down the defensive gauntlet, and Martin managed an offensive rebound before getting fouled and the forward hit both free throws.

Despite the strategy session, the Bristol crowd was giving its team a boost, and they opened up a 10-point gap with 90 seconds to go, which was closed to eight points going into the fourth.

Each team traded threes to open the final frame, but Delpeche put a stop to it when he was fed the ball down low. He faced up to the basket and swept through for a tough straightline drive.

The Flyers tried this strategy again, but Surrey’s Martin sniffed it out and doubled on the catch to force Delpeche into a loose ball – the Flyers got the home team bounce and it ended up in the hands of Brandon Mahan after most of the opposition had started running down the court, so he got an easy layup.

The Scorchers showed great heart to keep fighting, but they might have wondered how a close game got away from them.

There was just eight points in the game at the end of the third quarter, and potentially less had a ball or two bounced favourably for Surrey, but they were shut down thanks to an increased intensity on defence by the Bristol Flyers, and an impressive 10 offensive rebounds by Delpeche that led to 12 second chance points for his team. 

Bristol outscored the visitors 18-8 in the fourth quarter for what might have looked like an easy win, but absolutely wasn’t.

Two of the most exciting teams in the BBL this season got a much deserved primetime slot on Sky Sports, as Caledonia Gladiators travelled down from Glasgow to take on the Leicester Riders.

The visitors did their best to make their presence felt in Morningside Area by taking an early lead, thanks to Ali Fraser, who kept finding ways to get to the basket.

But that’s when Leicester’s Patrick Whelan stepped up. The Great Britain international scored eight straight points for his team, which excited the home crowd. They were further ignited when the Leicester faithful disagreed with an unsportsmanlike foul that was called. 

It was nip and tuck to start the second quarter. Jubril Adekoya came off the bench to score seven quick points, but Derryck Thornton wanted to make his presence felt and started attacking with ferocity.

He used quickness to get past Caledonian defenders for the layup, and they couldn’t help fouling him when he tried for a second time – he sunk both free throws – then burst into the passing lane a few possessions later to get a quick steal and an easy lay in.

This was the start of a Riders run. Thornton kept putting pressure on the Gladiators, but he was helped by Marc Loving, who scored seven points in around 80 seconds to create a 16-point gap within about five minutes before the half-time buzzer sounded.

This lead continued to swell, thanks to aggressive play by Thornton again, who got the ball to Whelan on the perimeter. The Gladiators tried to scramble back into a defensive position but fouled the shooter to send him to the line for three successful shots.

Before long, a 20-point gap had opened up, and this increased to 30 with two minutes to go in the third quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, a poised play by Whelan attracted two defenders, and he took his time to find Kimbal Mackenzie with a cross-court pass. The guard patiently waited for his defender to bite on the pump fake, and Mackenzie took one dribble into the paint to maintain the 30-point lead.

Caledonia’s Jordan Burns wasn’t about to give up, and he hit a three-point shot, thanks to the assist from Kyle Jimenez, and Burns followed it up with a long step-back two.

With five minutes to go and such a big deficit to overcome, the crowd could have started to drift out to beat the traffic, but Mackenzie gave them a reason to stick around – he found a beautiful gap for Aaron Menzies to come charging down the lane for a heartbreaking dunk to put the nail in the coffin.

Rider coach Rob Paternostro pulled Whelan out of the game at this stage after the guard scored 25 and grabbed 10 rebounds for a great all-round game. After the game, Whelan spoke to Sky Sports and explained his mindset. He said: “I was just trying to play good basketball – nothing more, nothing less.

“The home crowd in Leicester is great. We love playing here. It’s no secret that we haven’t lost here in a while. We’re looking forward to some more wins in front of this crowd.

“I’m expecting the next time we play against Caledonia to be different – they had some guys in foul trouble. They’ll come in with something different. We were just sticking to the plan tonight – we knew what we were doing defensively. We were running it in practice against their sets, so it was a good win for us tonight.

“Any big win is good, as you can see from last year. We’re on a roll by winning eight of our last nine, and hopefully we’ll make it nine of ten to keep it going.” 

Menzies blocked a few more shots and Mackenzie kept getting to the bucket for layups. There was another loud burst from the crowd when Blake Bowman got out in transition for a dunk, which made the Riders hit the century mark for a 33-point win in the dying seconds.

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