Sportspace was the place to be on Saturday night as Hemel Storm won a titanic game of basketball against perennial title challengers Reading Rockets in front of a noisy, pulsating crowd.
Both sides committed early errors and the score limped along to 10-15 in Rockets’ favour halfway through the first quarter.
Triples by co-captains Simon Kearney and Walid Mumuni kept Hemel in the game as Reading attempted to stamp their authority on proceedings.
With three minutes to go the scores were tied at 15 apiece before further threes by Kenroy Wood and Mumuni gave Hemel a five-point lead at the first interval at 27-22.
Wood opened the second quarter with a huge slam dunk before a three by Nic Rhodes and a 7-0 run saw them in front at 41-30 with four minutes to go until half-time.
A little pre-Christmas magic by Rhodes and Bode Adeluola helped Storm to a 17-point lead with three minutes left, but Reading fought back to trail 55-46 at the interval.
A blistering start to the third period by the Rockets, only interrupted by a Michael Darlow three-pointer, pulled the lead right back and the scores were level at 64-64 after five minutes.
A third triple by Mumuni gave Hemel the lead back and the score stayed remarkably tight as Storm finished the quarter with their noses slightly in front at 79-77.
It was all set for a barnstorming fourth quarter and the crowd was not to be disappointed.
An early 8-2 run gave Storm the advantage but back came Reading once again.
However hard they tried, though, they just could not sneak the lead and a six-point Storm advantage after five minutes stayed more or less the same until the final 30 seconds when Reading got it back to just two at 94-92.
A tremendous two-pointer by Rhodes was again negated by the away team and, with just 16.5 seconds, left it could have gone either way.
Darlow hit one from two free-throws to eke the Hemel lead out to 98-95 and, with Reading now three points down and the seconds running out, a hopeful long shot bounced off the Hemel rim with the final hooter sounding to scenes of great joy inside the arena.
A delighted Hemel co-coach Dave Allin said: “We knew we’d have to play exceptionally well against such a talented and deep Reading team.
“We don’t match-up against them very well, especially inside, but we played with such great heart and commitment that it pulled us through.”
Storm now move up to third place in the table and their next home game is at Sportspace on Saturday, January 9 at 7pm against London Lituanica in a National League Division One game.
Tickets and information can be found at www.stormbasketball.net