Hemel Storm had a 74–61 lead going into the last quarter of their National League Division One game against Essex Leopards on Saturday only to face a 40-point shooting streak by their opponents in the last ten minutes to fall to a 101-99 defeat.
In front of a pack crowd at Hemel Leisure Centre, Storm held Essex to just 13 points in the third period but a 12-0 run with five minutes to play in the final stanza handed the lead back to Leopards at 85-84.
The teams traded baskets before Storm’s eventual top scorer TrayVonn Wright (31 points, 12 rebounds) hit three consecutive jump shots and a free-throw to put his side back on top 91-90.
With less than two minutes to play Leopards’ Darrell Bethune and Asante Sandiford scored driving lay-ups without reply from the hosts and the visitors were ahead again at 94-91.
On Hemel’s next possession Bode Adeluola was fouled driving to the hoop and the Hemel players huddled near the free-throw line to talk tactics. But Bethune tried to join the huddle. The officials called a technical foul on him and then an unsportsmanlike foul on Adeluola for making contact with the Essex player.
Hemel’s Blayne Freckleton scored the resulting free-throw for the technical foul and Adeluola sank both of his free-throws for the original foul on him. As the noise in the arena reached a crescendo, the players trooped to the other end of the court and Bethune then hit both of his free-throws for the unsportsmanlike foul to give the visitors a 96-94 edge.
Essex had possession returned to them at the side-line but their attempted lay-up was blocked by Leome Francis and it sent Wright sprinting to the other end where he scored a lay-up and was fouled. His free-throw swished through the basket to give Hemel a 97-96 lead with 50 seconds left.
In a nail-biting climax, Leopards’ Findlay Wood connected on a three-pointer, Wright replied with one of two free-throws for Hemel before Essex captain Sam Newman also scored two from the line to put his team 101-98 ahead.
With under four seconds remaining the ball was tipped out of court by an Essex player and as Storm tried to execute a play to spring their sharp-shooting guard Freckleton loose for a chance to tie the game with a three-pointer, he was grabbed by Bethune before the ball could be passed into court and an unsportsmanlike foul was blown against the Essex player. Because of the technical foul earlier, he was disqualified.
Freckleton scored the free-throw and Storm then had possession with a little over two seconds left and needing only two points to tie or three to win. But in a well-worked last-ditch attempt Francis’ close-range shot bounced off the basket.
After a bright start with Hemel’s veteran forward Tom Adorian sinking eight of the team’s first ten points, Storm fell eight points behind, 25 -33 at the end of the first period.
But Hemel recovered from a 10-point deficit half way through the second stanza on the back of a 16 -4 run triggered by a Will Ashby three-pointer and an impressive defensive effort to lead 49-48 at half-time.
Hemel head coach Robert Youngblood said: “Both teams had chances in that last period to win but all credit to Essex, they made more of their shots.
“We could have won it with free-throws, it was a big factor. We only missed one in the first three periods but five in the final quarter.
“Having held them to 15 points in the second quarter and 13 in the third, they then shot their way back into the game – 40 points in a single period is impressive even though we were on the wrong end of it.
“We know we’re very close to turning things around; we now have a run-in of ten games left, seven against Clubs in the top eight League positions, two against sides with similar records to our own and one away to Manchester who only have one win.
“You can be sure we’ll be fighting on every possession in every game to close our season out successfully.”
Team and scorers v Essex: TrayVonn Wright 31, Tom Adorian 15, Bode Adeluola 13, Leome Francis 13, Blayne Freckleton 12, Will Ashby 8, Levi Noel 7, Jamie Hayes, Leon Henry, Jack Burnell and Shaquille Lewis.
This Saturday Hemel visit the team one place ahead of them in the table, Bradford Dragons, in 11th, before returning home this Sunday (tip-off 5pm) to host Team Solent Kestrels at Hemel Leisure Centre. For tickets or more information, visit www.stormbasketball.net.