A stunning first-quarter onslaught paved the way for Hemel Storm’s 85-76 National League Division One victory against Team Newcastle University at Sportspace on Saturday.
The talented and well-organised visitors included five overseas players in their line-up but they could not suppress Hemel’s tenacious defence and fast breaks.
They tried to stem the flow by calling a time-out after an unheard of four minutes when they found themselves trailing 26-14 in the first period.
Storm’s recent American signing A J Roberts was in irrepressible form again, instigating and at times finishing his team’s fast breaks and he eventually top-scored for his new club with 30 hard-earned points.
AJ converted on just over half of Hemel’s first-period total with 14 points.
But it was a combined defensive effort by the home team’s starters – Roberts, Bode Adeluola, Lee Greenan, Mike Darlow and David Ajumobi – that set the tone and drew praise from Hemel’s head coach Robert Youngblood.
Youngblood has been emphasising defence for many weeks and he was scathing of his side’s lack-lustre defensive showing against Ipswich in the National Cup last Sunday.
He said after the Newcastle win: “We worked extremely hard in practice this week and came out against Newcastle with terrific energy and togetherness.
“I liked the way we competed and played hard and that we also had good leadership on the court.”
Both sides substituted freely in the second period and Storm’s depth and versatile player combinations continued to give them the edge.
With leading scorers Roberts and Ajumobi both resting for some of the period, Storm were still able to stay ahead despite the visitors connecting on a trio of three-pointers.
A period dominated by defence ended with Storm leading 42-32 at half-time.
“Holding them to 14 and 18 points in the first two periods showed the defensive improvements we’ve been making,” added Youngblood.
“And those numbers are just about within our defensive goals.”
However Storm started slowly in the third period and a feisty Newcastle got within four points at 63-59 after making nine trips to the free-throw line and scoring on eight of them.
Storm regrouped and after trading baskets in the early part of the fourth quarter they put together an 11-5 run that had the home crowd sensing victory as they chanted “de-fence, de-fence”.
In an astute coaching move by Youngblood, Storm were able to neutralise Newcastle’s offence with an unusual player combination featuring five players all around 6ft 5ins – Roberts, Darlow, Walid Mumuni, Wayne Yeboah and Ajumobi – which forced the visitors into taking long-range shots and denying them any rebounds.
Amid a terrific effort by all five of the Hemel players, Ajumobi played some outstanding individual defence to put the clamps on Newcastle’s Fran Urli, the prolific 6ft 8ins Croatian forward who led his team’s scoring with 20 points.
Ajumobi was able to hold Urli scoreless in the crucial final four minutes.
With just over two minutes to play, Roberts stretched Hemel’s lead to 80-69 with two free-throws after he was fouled on a lightning quick drive to the basket and the team’s traded baskets to the final buzzer.
Youngblood said: “It was a much improved performance.
“We held them to low scores in three of the quarters, which is pleasing, but we’ve got to improve after half-time of games because we tend to let-up a little.”
Storm team and scorers: AJ Roberts 30, Dave Ajumobi 21, Tom Adorian 10, Bode Adeluola 9, Mike Darlow 4, Walid Mumuni 3, Jack Burnell 3, Courtney Van-Beest 3, Wayne Yeboah 2, Lee Greenan, Nick Allin and Chuck Duru.
Storm are away at winless Lancashire Spinners on Saturday in the league before travelling to Kent on Sunday to take on the Crusaders in the National Cup fourth round.
Storm are next at Sportspace on Sunday, November 12, against Worthing Thunder (tip-off at 5pm) in a National League Division One clash.
For more details, visit www.stormbasketball.net.