Hemel Storm are through to the National Cup final after beating Division One rivals Loughborough Riders 103-86 in front of a raucous sell-out crowd at Sportspace this Saturday.
Hemel have lost twice to Riders this season in league and National Trophy games but it was third time lucky as Storm – roared on by their fans – produced an outstanding display of free-flowing basketball and accurate shooting to secure their first national final since winning promotion to the top flight in 2012.
Storm will face Manchester Magic in the final on Sunday, January 21, at the University of East London (tip-off 3.30pm).
A blistering first-half saw Storm slice through the visitors’ pressing defence with ease and pour in a season-high half-time tally of 59 points to the Riders’ 46. Loughborough’s press had caused Hemel problems before – but not this time.
The hosts’ half-time total included six three-pointers, two from Dave Ajumobi and four from American guard AJ Roberts who finished as Hemel’s top scorer with 26 points as well as adding six assists and grabbing five rebounds.
Hemel coach Robert Youngblood has sometimes seen his side play poorly after half-time this term, so he sent his players back onto the court early ahead of the third quarter to ensure they had extra time for warm-ups. And they responded with a dominant period that denied Riders any thoughts of getting back into this semi-final.
After early exchanges, fan favourite and three-point specialist Jack Burnell was substituted into the game and brought the crowd to its feet in a frenzy when he sank back-to-back triples that put Hemel 74-55 ahead and sensing they were within touching distance of the cup final.
Storm were superbly led by captain and mercurial point guard Bode Adeluola whose creative and unselfish play resulted in an impressive 12 assists – one of the highest tallies ever recorded by a Storm player. Despite the visitors attempts to pressure him into mistakes, the athletic Adeluola was secure with the ball and set-up his teammates for some uncontested shot attempts.
Although Storm went into the fourth period with determination to finish the job, Riders rallied briefly and closed the gap to 72-84 but a Storm time-out stopped the rot and a sequence of superb individual plays by Hemel’s utility forward Wayne Yeboah saw him steal the ball twice, nail four consecutive free-throws and score a driving lay-up under pressure from two Loughborough defenders. Roberts hit a jump-shot with four minutes remaining to restore Hemel’s lead to 93-72.
Fittingly, it was Yeboah, known at the club for his willingness to always give his best effort no matter what the circumstances and to do the little things that help his team win, who broke free and scored the jump-shot that brought the hundredth point up as the crowd began to celebrate with a minute left to play.
Riders’ coach Mark Jarram was gracious in defeat, saying: “I thought Storm were fantastic and really deserved the win. They shot the ball extremely well, were well-coached and the Hemel support played a part in the result.
“I wish them the very best of luck in the final against Manchester.”
Storm team and scorers v Riders: AJ Roberts 26, Dave Ajumobi 19, Wayne Yeboah 16, Lee Greenan 11, Courtney Van-Beest 10, Bode Adeluola 9, Jack Burnell 6, Mike Darlow 4, Walid Mumuni 2, Tom Adorian, Chuck Duru, Rhyce Donegal.