Late free-throws proved to be decisive as Hemel Storm were edged out by a Newcastle side that had trailed for much of the game on Saturday.
The 83-80 league defeat leaves Hemel in tenth place in the 14-team National League Division One table, but after only four games and Storm have a game-in-hand over many of the teams around them.
Hemel led for nearly the entire game on the road at Newcastle but lost in a dramatic climax when the hosts sank five free-throws in the last minute to steal victory.
In a hard-fought clash, Storm threatened several times to break the game open but failed to build on leads, including a 14-5 edge in the first quarter.
The hosts went ahead for the first time 75-73 with less than three minutes left behind an Eric Stafford jump shot, but Hemel’s Bode Adeluola restored the lead with a three-pointer.
After Newcastle’s David Hanson replied immediately with a triple of his own, Storm’s Levi Noel knotted the scores at 78-78 when he hit two free-throws.
Hemel’s 6ft 9ins forward Tom Adorian put his side 80-78 ahead going into the last minute as the drama for Hemel’s travelling fans unfolded. Newcastle went ahead 81-80 after free-throws, before Storm had the ball and a chance to win.
Adeluola’s driving shot missed with 14 seconds left and after a scramble for the ball Hemel were awarded possession under Newcastle’s basket. Hemel head coach Robert Youngblood called a time-out to set-up a last-ditch play but the inbounds pass was stolen and Newcastle’s Stafford was able to ice the win with free-throws in the last seconds
Storm were paced by 18 points apiece from Noel and Adorian. Adorian also pulled down 11 rebounds, while Noel had eight boards and six assists. Blayne Freckleton chipped in with a double-double from the back-court of 11 points and 10 assists.
A disappointed Youngblood said afterwards: “We didn’t play with a sense of urgency. We were sluggish throughout and our decision-making at times was just not at a high enough level.
“Even though we turned the ball over on the last play when we had the chance to win it, we really shouldn’t have been in that position. All credit to Newcastle, they took advantage of their size down the stretch and also nailed some big perimeter shots. On balance, they deserved to win.
“We’re still trying to find a comfortable rhythm to our game but are not yet consistent at both ends of the floor for 40 minutes. But we’ll learn from this loss and move on.”
Storm team and scorers v Newcastle: Tom Adorian 18, Levi Noel 18, Blayne Freckleton 11, Bode Adeluola 9, Will Ashby 7, Ian Berry 7, Jamie Hayes 4, Leon Henry 3, Leome Francis 3, Jack Burnell and Sam Dunscombe.
Storm (1-3) will hope to recover this Saturday when they host seventh-ranked Bradford Dragons (3-3) at Hemel Leisure Centre (tip-off 7pm). They are then in league action the very next day, away at fifth-ranked Reading Rockets (3-2).
For tickets, visit www.stormbasketball.net.