Injury-hit Storm slay Dragons
An injury-plagued Hemel Storm moved up two league places to tenth after picking up a crucial 98-90 National League Division One win at Bradford on Saturday.
However, the double-header weekend ended with a 101-81 loss at home to a strong second-placed Team Solent Kestrels side on Sunday.
In a close encounter at Bradford, Hemel’s impressive American TrayVonn Wright and guard Blayne Freckleton combined for 62 points to lead Storm to victory.
Bradford beat Hemel 114-84 in the reverse fixture in November but since then have had a spectacular drop in form and are now winless in their last nine outings.
Wright’s 37 points and 11 rebounds on Saturday and 32 points with 11 rebounds on Sunday earned him the NBL Player of the Week award from Basketball England, the sport’s governing body.
It was a gutsy win against the Dragons for a Storm squad without their powerful starting forward Leome Francis and a 16-minute contribution only from point guard Bode Adeluola, who was injured on a drive to basket. Adeluola sat out the rest of the game and did not play on Sunday.
Although Hemel struggled in the opening exchanges with Bradford they quickly settled and were able to open daylight between the teams to go ahead 51-44 by the half-time interval.
Storm built on their lead in the third stanza and a Freckleton three-pointer put them 65-54 ahead.
But the hosts edged back with an 8-0 run before a Richard Sulcs free-throw closed the gap to just one point at 85-86 with two minutes left.
Hemel held their nerve and Levi Noel and Wright scored all of the side’s points in the closing minutes as the Dragons were made to pay for sending them to the free-throw line.
A delighted head coach Robert Youngblood said afterwards: “It was the best I’ve seen us communicate on defence all season.
“I thought we played really well as a team and also had terrific individual performances from TrayVonn and Blayne”.
Solent came to Hemel Leisure Centre on Sunday having been toppled from first place in the league following a 74-85 loss to Derby Trailblazers the previous night.
Hemel matched Solent in the opening exchanges but a barrage of three-pointers, including ten in the first-half, gave the visitors a 57-42 cushion at the break.
A Storm rally in the third period was countered by Solent as they sank five more triples to extend the lead.
Youngblood said: “We started well against Solent but tired legs began to kick in and we couldn’t make a jump shot.
“It didn’t help being down two of our key guys [Adeluola and Francis].
“We particularly missed Leome’s strength around the basket as Solent were physical inside.
“I was happy with our overall effort, though, and Jack Burnell in particular was really impressive over the weekend. I thought we were really focused in both games.”
Storm team and scorers v Bradford: TrayVonn Wright 37, Blayne Freckleton 25, Levi Noel 10, Jack Burnell 10, Bode Adeluola 7, Will Ashby 4, Tom Adorian 3 and Shaquille Lewis 2.
Storm Team and scorers v Solent: TrayVonn Wright 32, Blayne Freckleton 18, Levi Noel 12, Jack Burnell 8, Will Ashby 7, Jamie Hayes 2, Tom Adorian 2 and Shaquille Lewis.
Storm are back at Hemel Leisure Centre this Saturday (tip-off 7pm) when they take on 12th-placed Barking Abbey Crusaders in another crucial match as Hemel try to get back into the playoff conversation.
For tickets or more details, visit the website www.storm basketball.net
The following day on Sunday, Storm travel to Brentwood to take on sixth-ranked Essex Leopards (4pm).