Hemel Storm returned to winning ways on Saturday with a narrow 72–69 victory from a gutsy performance away to Loughborough Riders.
The two teams traded baskets early in the game but the introduction of Hemel’s British-American guard Nik Rhodes triggered a 15-4 run in favour of Storm to give them a nine point first quarter lead.
Head Coach David Allin said: “We hadn’t expected Nik to play as he has been suffering with an injured elbow but he was the spark that turned the game in our favour.”
The anticipated onslaught driven by the youthful energy of the home team didn’t materialise and it was the Hemel youngsters, Nick Allin and Jack Burnell, who extended the lead with successive three pointers at the start of the second quarter.
A mini recovery by Riders followed but this was thwarted with the attacking combination of Rhodes and 6’ 9” Tom Adorian giving Vanarama-sponsored Storm the lead by 36-31 at half-time.
Allin said: “Loughborough struggled to cope with the combination of Tom and Nik. We drew up some plays to maximise that and the guys delivered.”
The tables were turned in the third quarter as Riders took the initiative. Hemel failed to contain some superb ball movement and perimeter shooting and the home team wracked up a five point lead with 3½ minutes remaining in the period.
But the visitors rediscovered the resilience that had deserted them in recent games and responded with seven straight points to hold a slender two point lead going into the final quarter.
The lead changed four more times in the last period as both teams continued to convert pressure shots. Young England international Alex Roberts led the way for Loughborough with some impressive shooting and a total of 21 points.
But it was Hemel that edged in front in the closing minutes. However the psychological effect of recent losses was clear as Storm nervously played out the final minutes and hung on for a three point win.
A delighted but relieved Coach Allin said: “I was really impressed with our performance. We’ve worked hard on a few things in training that we executed really well in the game. We probably could and should have finished the game more emphatically but it’s great to get the win and gives us a real boost for two tough home games before Christmas.
“We set a target of keeping Loughborough under 70 points. To hold them to 13 in the first quarter was the perfect start for us.
“Tom and Nik gave us the edge offensively and I was pleased with the scoring that Nick added to his usual composed performance but the most valuable player for me was Wayne Yeboah who worked tirelessly for the team and came up with some massive plays just when we needed them.”
Team and Scorers: Adorian 22, Yeboah 13, Allin 9, Burnell 9, Rhodes 7, Henry 6, Darlow 4, Mumuni 2, Duru, Rodwell.
Storm are at Sportspace on Saturday when they take on last season’s title winners Manchester Magic, tip-off 7pm. For tickets and information visit www.stormbasketball.net