An improved showing from Hemel Storm at Worthing Thunder wasn’t enough to help their bid for a top-four finish and home advantage in the end-of-season playoffs.
Storm were on the wrong end of a 78-72 scoreline in Saturday’s National League Division One clash away at Worthing and Hemel have now slid to sixth place in the table.
Thunder led for most of the game but Hemel were always in touch as eventual top-scorer and captain Bode Adeluola (18 points) marshalled his team from the back court and orchestrated a recovery whenever Worthing threatened to stretch the lead.
In a tit-for-tat first quarter Hemel’s superb defensive effort was able to nullify the twin threats of the league’s leading scorer and former BBL MVP Zaire Taylor and Thunder’s recent American signing Marquis Mathis.
But the home team’s Jorge Ebanks and their skipper Brendon Okoronkwo were able to pick up the slack and the period ended with the scores knotted at 24 apiece.
Taylor was held to a season-low eight points – 22 below his average – as Hemel’s AJ Roberts, Walid Mumuni and Courtney Van-Beest shared the defensive assignment and kept him in check throughout the game.
Mathis, meanwhile, was shackled by Storm’s Dave Ajumobi who restricted the American to scoring just four from 22 shot attempts.
It brought praise from Hemel’s head coach Robert Youngblood, who said: “Ajumobi’s individual defence on Mathis was superb within our overall defensive scheme.”
But while Storm were able to execute their defensive game plan well, it was, once again, their shooting that let them down as they scored at only a 38 per cent success rate from the field.
Hemel had opportunities to take a lead into half-time but missed their chances and handed the initiative to Worthing who edged the quarter 19-15 to lead 43-39 at the break.
“It was frustrating,” said Youngblood, “our shooting let us down – again – and especially when we worked the ball inside or drove to the basket for close-range attempts.”
The home team’s advantage grew in the early part of the second half as a 9-0 run, six coming from Ebanks, gave Thunder their first double-digit lead at 57-44 which was temporarily ended by a Roberts’ jump shot but the home team were still able to maintain a 64-54 edge heading into the final stanza.
Hemel came out fighting in the fourth period and scored the opening seven points while holding Worthing scoreless.
And with five minutes remaining a Van-Beest free-throw got Hemel right back into the game at 66-64.
The teams then traded baskets before dagger three-pointers from Mathis and James Grinham took the wind out of Storm’s recovery and Thunder were able to control the clock and hold on for the win.
The six-point victory secured the head-to-head season series for Thunder, who lost by only two points to Storm at Sportspace in November, which could prove critical in deciding the final league standings. Worthing are now in fourth place.
Youngblood said: “I thought we played hard and together in this game, it was great to see some individual players getting back to how they played earlier in the season. Overall there were lots of positives to build on; our ball movement and defensive work were great.
“I can sense us getting back to form and we’ll be ready to get wins at home against Manchester this Saturday and then away on Sunday in Bradford.”
Storm team and scorers: Bode Adeluola 18, Courtney Van-Beest 13, AJ Roberts 12, Dave Ajumobi 11, Lee Greenan 8, Mike Darlow 6, Jack Burnell 4, Walid Mumuni, Chuck Duru, Tom Adorian and Rhyce Donegal.
Storm are back at home at Sportspace this Saturday against Manchester Magic – the team they beat in the National Cup final. Tip-off is at 7pm.
For tickets or further information, visit the website www.stormbasketball.net.