After a lacklustre shooting display against Loughborough Riders on Saturday Hemel Storm bounced back in style on Sunday to down Reading Rockets 121-116 in an upset victory to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Storm’s Jekyll and Hyde weekend was played out at Hemel Leisure Centre in front of packed crowds, who saw them connect on only 29 per cent of their shots – their worst rate this term – in a 62-104 league defeat to the third-placed Riders on Saturday.
But the very next day they sank a season-best 54 per cent of their shots in an impressive win over sixth-ranked Reading.
Hemel’s recent American signing TrayVonn Wright was unstoppable against Reading, scoring 38 points – 24 in the first-half – to lead all scorers and help keep Storm in the hunt for a coveted place in the top-eight National League Division One playoffs.
With three league games to go Storm are in tenth in the table because although they have an identical record to ninth-placed Bradford Dragons (10-13) the West Yorkshire side holds the head-to-head tie-break advantage.
On Saturday Storm trailed 22-17 after the first period but the visitors were beginning to take advantage of Hemel’s misfiring offence in an up-tempo game to push the lead to 48-35 by half-time.
Despite Storm creating some excellent scoring chances, Riders used a 10-0 run in the last two minutes of the third quarter to secure a commanding 80-50 lead and went on to take the last stanza 24-12.
In Sunday’s high-octane clash, there were worrying signs in the opening quarter when Reading opened strongly to take a 27-12 lead after eight minutes behind three triples from American guard A J Carr.
But Storm head coach Robert Youngblood changed Hemel’s defence which then forced Reading into ball-handling mistakes and triggered a 10-2 reply to close the quarter with the deficit cut to 29-22.
Storm’s comeback was complete by half-time as their opponent’s offence stuttered in the second period while Hemel sank 34 points, including two triples from Will Ashby to lead 56-53 at the break.
Storm were firing on all cylinders after the interval and steadily built an 83-74 lead but a 6-2 mini-run in the last minute got Reading back to 80-85 with a quarter to play.
Storm jumped out to a 10-point lead, 92-82, early in the final period as Wright and Bode Adeluola combined to finish some slick offensive moves.
And when Hemel’s Jack Burnell drained the second of his three-pointers, the lead ballooned to 16 points at 107-91 as Storm sensed victory.
But the visitors’ rallied and with 17 seconds left Hemel’s outstanding defender Levi Noel was judged to have fouled Carr as he attempted a three-point shot.
The American calmly sank all three of the resulting free-throws to close the gap to 117-114 for a nervy finish.
With the Rockets forced to foul to stop the clock and regain possession, Storm’s Blayne Freckleton and Adeluola clinically sank their free-throws in the final seconds to seal a memorable victory.
Storm have another crucial double-header this weekend, with two league clashes on the road.
They travel to basement side Manchester Magic this Saturday, and then have the return fixture against the already playoff-bound Loughborough Riders on the Sunday.
The final game of the season is at home against fifth-placed Derby Trailblazers on Saturday, March 30.
Hemel team and scorers v Loughborough: Levi Noel 15, TrayVonn Wright 13, Jack Burnell 8, Blayne Freckleton 7, Bode Adeluola 5, Will Ashby 5, Jamie Hayes 5, Celeb Tabanar 2, Shaquille Lewis 2, Tom Adorian.
Team and scorers v Reading: TrayVonn Wright 38, Bode Adeluola 23, Blayne Freckleton 21, Levi Noel 20, Will Ashby 12, Jack Burnell 7, Jamie Hayes, Celeb Tabanar, Shaquille Lewis, Tom Adorian.