Hemel Storm’s fans were treated to a sizzling season-opener at Hemel Leisure Centre on Saturday as their team shot down a big and talented Thames Valley Cavaliers squad 100-99 in a dramatic National Trophy pool game which was decided in the last second.
New-look Hemel had to claw back deficits in three of the quarters to stay in touch, but a dominant run in the second stanza saw them recover from a 23-28 first-period deficit to take a 56-49 lead into the half-time break – a margin that was to prove decisive.
The second period spurt included a thunderous dunk that ignited the biggest roar of the evening from the crowd when new Storm signing Levi Noel drove full-court and deftly dropped a perfectly weighted, no-look pass behind him to trailing power forward Leome Francis, who leapt to slam dunk the ball home.
The game’s dramatic, nail-biting climax was like watching two prize-fighters slogging it out and saw the visitors close to two points, 94-92 on free-throws from their captain Martelle McLemore with less than a minute to go.
On Storm’s next possession they patiently worked the ball to Francis, who deftly drove inside the key before spinning to score at close-range to put Hemel ahead 96-92.
Cavaliers’ Teejay Amu responded immediately with a mid-range jump-shot after a mix-up in Hemel’s defence to move the visitors back within two points at 96-94, but Storm sprung Bode Adeluola got loose to swish the most crucial three-pointer of the game to give his side a 99-94 advantage with fewer than 15 seconds left.
Once again the visitors responded with a two-point bucket, this time from Prince Lartey, followed by a foul on Hemel’s Leon Henry in a tactical move to stop the clock.
Henry sank one of his two free-throws to move the score to 100-96 but on the Cavaliers’ next possession McLemore fired a long-range effort from well outside the three-point arc which found nothing but net despite Storm’s intense defensive effort to make it a one-point game at 100-99.
And with less than a second to go, the visitors’ Lartey stole Hemel’s inbounds pass but didn’t have enough time to score a potentially match-winning shot. The Storm faithful were treated to a virtuoso individual performance from skipper Adeluola, who sank 36 points, including six three-pointers, alongside three assists and five rebounds.
The Storm team combined to splash a club-record 15 three-pointers, with Levi Noel (4), Leon Henry (2), Blayne Freckleton (2) and Will Ashby all connecting on long-range bombs.
Head coach Robert Youngblood said afterwards: “We have the players this season to make those kind of shots.
“We were completely outsized but we weren’t fazed by it, and in the end the rebound count at 40/50 to them was acceptable given the obvious physical difference between the teams.
“Our team balance has been affected by the pre-season injuries but I thought we adapted, battled well and played with a lot of heart.”
Associate head coach Dave Titmuss, who has been worked closely with Youngblood, added: “We know we have to play differently from last year because of all the roster changes, but it’s an exciting brand of basketball to watch and we’ll only get better at executing it.”
Storm are still without potential starters 6ft 9ins Tom Adorian and 6ft 6ins forward Mike Darlow through injuries they sustained in pre-season training and there is no date for their return.
Saturday’s win was a case of déjà vu for the visitors as Storm beat Thames Valley last season in a similarly tight clash with a score at the final buzzer in the National Cup quarter-finals. Storm went on to lift the cup after demolishing Manchester Magic 94-77 in the final for the club’s first national silverware in six years.
Storm team and scorers: Bode Adeluola 36, Levi Noel 16, Leome Francis 16, Blayne Freckleton 11, Leon Henry 9, Will Ashby 6, Jamie Hayes 4, Tom Martin 2, Jack Burnell, Ian Berry, Sam Dunscombe and Oliver Ladlow.
Revenge will be on the mind for Storm’s next clash on Saturday, October 6 (tip-off 7pm), when they host the side that beat them in last year’s playoff final, Worthing Thunder, in the league at Hemel Leisure Centre.
For tickets or more details about the club, visit website www.stormbasketball.net.