Hemel Storm’s topsy-turvy season continued when they went down 92-73 at home to Northumbria on Saturday in an under-par National League Division One performance.
Storm, who won the National Cup just a few weeks ago, were without their captain and mercurial point-guard Bode Adeluola and never got into any kind of rhythm against the well-organised and sharp-shooting visitors.
Back in November Hemel had beaten Northumbria comfortably 89-66 in the reverse fixture on the road.
Since then Northumbria have added talented American guard Atif Russell to their roster and on his debut against Storm at Sportspace he sank 21 points, grabbed six rebounds and added six assists.
Storm fell behind from the opening tip-off when Blayne Freckleton connected on back-to-back triples, and they lost the first three quarters as Northumbria steadily built a commanding lead.
The visitors’ pinpoint shooting – they connected on an impressive 54 per cent success rate overall that included 13 three-pointers – and disruptive defensive strategies restricted Hemel to very few unchallenged scoring opportunities.
For much of the game the hosts’ possessions were harried and pressured and their usually slick attacks and fast-breaks too often ended in hurried shot attempts which inevitably cut down their field goal success rate (41 per cent).
The efficient inside play of Storm’s top-scorer Dave Ajumobi (18 points, eight rebounds) and 7ft centre Lee Greenan (nine points , eight rebounds) did cause Northumbria’s defence problems but Hemel couldn’t consistently exploit their advantage close to basket as the visitors’ swarming defence clogged the lane.
Hemel were able to win an 18-15 consolation final period but they entered the last ten minutes trailing by 58-77 and their improved efforts in the last quarter couldn’t affect the outcome of the game in this uncharacteristically poor Storm performance.
Hemel slipped to fifth place in the league table after this loss with eight games remaining and are now fighting to finish in the top-four to secure home advantage in the end-of-season playoffs.
Storm head coach Robert Youngblood said: “Although I give credit to how Northumbria defended us, there was nothing about it that we haven’t faced before.
“It’s difficult to account for how ineffective our overall play was or why players who have been consistent defensively all season just kept making mistakes.
“Northumbria shot well, no question, but we gifted them far too many open looks.
“We really missed Bode but that’s not an excuse, our fans deserve a better effort than that from us.
“It’s not too late to put things right in training.
“We’re still focused on our goal to finish in the top-four and it starts with our game away to Worthing this weekend.”
Storm team and scorers vs Northumbria: Dave Ajumobi 18, Walid Mumuni 11, AJ Roberts 10, Michael Darlow 10, Lee Greenan 9, Wayne Yeboah 8, Jack Burnell 4, Chuck Duru 4, Courtney Van-Beest 2, Ladi Brown, Tom Adorian and Rhyce Donegal.
This Saturday Hemel travel to fourth-ranked Worthing Thunder, a side they only just edged 91-89 at home back in November.
Storm are at Sportspace next Saturday, February 24, when the visitors will be their National Cup final opponents, Manchester Magic.
Tip-off is at 7pm.
For tickets and further information, visit the website www.stormbasketball.net.