Hemel Storm fought back from a 15-point deficit against the Leicester Warriors but ultimately fell short 77-83 in Saturday’s National League Division One encounter.
After a strong start to the season which saw Hemel reel off nine wins in a row, they have now lost three of their past four games.
At Sportspace on Saturday, a devastating first quarter saw the Storm go 28-13 down against a rampant Warriors side but the home team fought back impressively and actually built a four-point advantage 62-58 going into the final quarter.
And when Hemel’s American guard and eventual top-scorer AJ Roberts (23 points and six assists) hit a three-pointer on the first possession of the final stanza to put his team seven points ahead, it looked like Storm’s gutsy fight back would bring an early Christmas present for their fans.
But the visitors had other ideas.
They clawed their way back through some tenacious defence that forced Hemel into six turnovers in the period and produced some aggressive offensive play that saw the Warriors penetrate Storm’s defence and outscore them 25-15 and take the win 83-77.
Hemel had their chances at the free-throw line but they were agonisingly cold from the charity stripe, especially in the decisive last quarter when they scored only three of their ten attempts and were just 11 from 20 overall for the game.
In a nail-biting final minute the Warriors, who are 11th in the National League Division One standings, went 78-77 ahead on an Elliot Sentence jump shot followed by a three-pointer from American import Rodney Sanders.
With the score at 81-77 and 35 seconds to go, Hemel head coach Robert Youngblood called a time-out but his team could not recover as the seconds ticked down and free-throws from Sentence sealed the win for Leicester.
Storm’s determination in the second period was plain to see as they refused to be rolled over, came out fighting and crucially turned up the defensive pressure while improving their offensive efficiency.
They produced a 22-8 burst in the first five minutes of the quarter and a three-pointer by Dave Ajumobi took them into the locker room at half-time just two points adrift at 42-44.
Back to back triples by Roberts moved them into a 54-48 lead half-way through the third period before their collapse in the fourth.
Coach Youngblood could not be consoled after the game but commented briefly: “I really don’t have much to say about that performance.
“I’m very disappointed in how we played, it was very poor.
“Missed free-throws will often cost you games.”
Storm dropped to fourth place in the table with a won seven, lost four record behind leaders Solent Kestrels, Loughborough Riders in second place and Worthing Thunder in third.
Dave Titmuss, Storm’s coaching director, stressed that following a summer of changes and rebuilding, the club goes into the Christmas break in a far stronger position than the same time last season.
He said: “We shouldn’t forget that this time last year we were sitting one place above the relegation zone.
“This year we’re still on track for at least a top-four finish and qualification for a home draw in the end-of-season national championship playoffs, and we have a chance to advance to the National Cup final.
“We have plenty to look forward to and to build on for the second half of the season.”
Addressing the recent run of results, he said: “It’s true that our form has dipped of late, but we’ve brought new guys into the team this season and have a new head coach in Robert Youngblood and things always take time to gel.
“We have talent, experience and leadership in the squad which I’m confident will pay dividends for us in the second half of the season.”
Storm team and scorers v Warriors: AJ Roberts 23, Bode Adeluola 18, Lee Greenan 15, Wayne Yeboah 7, Dave Ajumobi 6, Jack Burnell 3, Michael Darlow 3, Courtney Van-Beest 2, Chuck Duru, Tom Adorian, Walid Mumuni and Rhyce Donegal.
Storm are right back in the thick of it after the 20-day festive break when they start the new year competing in the National Cup semi-final against Loughborough Riders.
That crucial clash, re-arranged from December 10 due to the snowy conditions, is taking place at Hemel’s Sportspace home on Saturday, January 6. Tip-off is at 7pm.
For tickets and further information, visit the website www.stormbasketball.net.