Under-pressure Hemel Storm came out fighting to earn two much-needed wins over the weekend, including a double-overtime thriller over high-flying Worthing Thunder on Sunday.
Storm launched their bid for a National League Division One playoffs spot by beating 13th-placed Newcastle 85-79 at home on Saturday and then followed it up with a major upset of second-placed Worthing 114-09 in double overtime on the south coast the very next day.
The two wins, which improved Storm’s league record to five wins and nine losses, pushed them up to 12th place in the standings and just two points off Bradford (6-9) in the eighth and final playoff spot.
It was only the fourth time the Thunder (13-4) had lost all term. There are still 12 league games to go and Hemel, powered by new American signing Trayvonn Wright (see panel,. right) are poised to make a run at the post-season.
In a consummate and gutsy team performance on Sunday, Hemel’s dynamic guard Bode Adeluola produced an incredible individual performance, playing the full 50 minutes while leading his side with 41 points, hitting 15 of 19 attempts, including nine of 11 from the free-throw stripe, as well as 11 rebounds, two assists and two steals.
The league office, Basketball England, gave Hemel skipper Adeluola their NBL Player of the Week award for his virtuoso display.
Hemel’s new 6ft 7ins US signing Wright made an impressive home debut on Saturday with 20 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and two blocks, and added 14 points and eight boards against Worthing before fouling out with six minutes of the first overtime period left following a series of questionable calls.
A delighted Storm head coach Robert Youngblood said afterwards: “We just refused to lose this weekend, but especially on the Sunday.
“Worthing is one of the hardest places in the league to go and get a victory, but we showed what we are made of.
“I thought we played with a lot of heart.”
Associate head coach Dave Titmuss added: “We’ve been working on some technical adjustments in training which paid off and, of course, Bode was on another level – amazing – but everyone played an important role.”
The two victories also moved Storm out of the relegation zone.
On Saturday Storm had built a 21-point lead, 73-52, by the opening minutes of the fourth quarter but Newcastle responded with a flurry of three-pointers to close to just 81-77 before a pair of Leome Francis free-throws and a massive Wright dunk sealed the crucial victory to the relief of the packed crowd.
Hemel trailed early but put together a strong third quarter to give themselves the breathing room needed to pick up an important win against a fellow bottom-three side.
The visitors started the brighter and pulled away for an early ten-point advantage midway through the first quarter. A solid end to the period saw Hemel regain their composure and tie things up throughout the second and then take a five-point lead into the locker room at half-time.
But the third period saw Storm open the floodgates as they poured in 28 points to lead by as many as 20 at times.
On Sunday, Storm took control of the game early against Thunder as they edged ahead and held a narrow advantage for much of the first 25 minutes before Worthing came firing back to regain the lead heading into the final stanza in regulation time.
In a nail-biting clash where the lead changed hands a remarkable 21 times, the teams were tied-up no less then 15 different occasions.
Worthing may have thought they were on their way to another win when leading for much of the fourth period, the former BBL MVP Zaire Taylor giving them an 85-81 lead with three minutes left.
Howver, Wright quickly responded for Storm with a three-pointer and two minutes’ later it was Wright again who tied it up at 88-88.
An Adeluola lay-in gave Hemel a 88-90 lead with 35 seconds left but Jorge Ebanks replied and tied the game with 22 seconds to play before Adeluola’s game-winning triple attempt bounced off the ring.
In a competitive first overtime period Thunder’s Ebanks looked to be the hero when he hit two free-throws to give Worthing a 98-97 advantage.
But Hemel’s Blayne Freckleton hit a huge triple to put Hemel 98-100up, before Thunder captain Brendan Okoronkwo tied the game at 100-100 with a lay-up.
Foul trouble was the story of the second overtime period, with both teams hitting the penalty limit so the free-throw line came into play.
Hemel went 10-12 from the stripe in the final five minutes, a crucial contribution to their final tally as they made the foul shots they needed down the stretch to pull away and record an impressive 114-109 victory.
For Storm, as well as Adeluola’s and Wright’s contributions, Freckleton added 18 points and seven rebounds, Francis finished with a double-double of 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Levi Noel recorded 13 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Storm team and scorers v Newcastle: Freckleton 21, Wright 20, Francis 15, Adeluola 10, Ashby 6, Noel 5, Burnell 3, Lewis 3, Adorian 2, Henry, Hayes.
At Worthing: Adeluola 41, Freckleton 18, Francis 17, Wright 14, Noel 13, Ashby 9, Henry 2, Burnell, Adorian, Hayes, Lewis.
This Saturday Hemel have a crucial visit to 11th-placed Leicester Warriors (6-11) at 3pm, while their next home game is the following Saturday, February 16, (tip-off 7pm), at Hemel Leisure Centre against Essex Leopards.
For tickets or more information, visit the website www.stormbasketball.net
n See p37 for a report on Hemel Storm II’s match at the weekend.