A glorious double-winning weekend has sent Hemel Storm to the top of National League Division One table and into the semi-final stages of the National Cup.
On Saturday Hemel were in league action in Manchester and convincingly beat perennial title contenders the Magic 77-55, before clinching a dramatic 91- 89 victory over Thames Valley Cavaliers in the cup the very next day. Storm’s Dave Ajumobi tipped-in a shot just before the final buzzer for Storm’s ninth win in a row.
In Manchester a supreme Storm defensive effort held the Magic to 22 points fewer than their game average.
After trading early baskets in the first-quarter Magic briefly held a six-point lead but the visitors’ dominant rebounding, defence and unselfish offence told. As the period waned, Storm’s man-of-the-match AJ Roberts (29 points, seven rebounds, five assists, a block, a steal) sank a jumper to give Storm a 20-19 lead that they would not surrender.
Hemel broke the game open in the second-quarter, outscoring Magic 24-11 thanks to three-pointers from Mike Darlow and Jack Burnell, and unstoppable drives by captain Bode Adeluola (12 points).
The third stanza was a possession-by-possession defensive battle as Magic tried to find a way back but it was Storm that came out on top, restricting Manchester to 12 points while scoring 16 themselves. The last 11 points of the period were sunk by Roberts, including a triple that put Storm 54-36 ahead. By the end of the third, Hemel had a commanding 18-point advantage at 60-42.
The final quarter was a carbon copy of the third and once again Storm put in a defensive shift and edged it 17-13.
Standout statistics from the game were in the assists column, where Hemel dished out 20 to Magic’s nine, and in rebounding, 52-44 against a traditionally strong side.
Back-to-back games over a weekend – and on the road –are always challenging and so it proved as Storm took on promotion-hopefuls Thames Valley Cavaliers from National League Division Two in the National Cup quarter-finals.
Storm’s exploits in Manchester seemed to have taken their toil as a sluggish showing defensively resulted in a free-scoring tie with the teams trading baskets and neither being able to establish control.
By half-time Hemel were ahead, but only just at 50-44.
The athletic Thames side stayed in touch in the third period despite Adeluola (23 points) hitting a series of go-ahead baskets.
The hosts went into the final ten minutes with an upset victory in mind and within reach at 68-74.
Storm were able to maintain their edge at 89-83 with 80 seconds to play when the tie reached its dramatic climax. A
Roberts was adjudged to have committed a disqualifying foul when attempting to block a close-range shot by Cavaliers’ Robert Banks and the call meant Roberts could take no further part in the game. The hosts were also awarded two free-throws and possession of the ball after.
Banks scored both free-throws to close the gap to 89-85 and with the new possession they scored again to get within two, 89-87.
As the clock ticked down, Adeluola was fouled but he missed both free-throws and the hosts’ leading scorer Martelle McLemore (30 points), drove to basket to level the game at 89 with 40 seconds left. Storm lost their next possession when Ajumobi committed a charging foul and Thames had a chance to take the lead but Storm’s defence forced Abdoulaye Sylla to miss from close range and Hemel’s Mike Darlow snared the rebound.
Storm advanced the ball and with eight seconds left Ajumobi drove inside but his shot was smothered. He grabbed the rebound and his second shot bounced off the rim but he was able to tip it back into the basket a split second before the buzzer sounded as Storm’s players and staff ran onto court to celebrate an exciting 91-89 cup win.
Storm’s head coach Robert Youngblood said: “We went to Manchester on a mission. We wanted to make a statement and show we are for real and true title contenders – not pretenders!
“The entire team was fantastic but AJ was on another level and looked like a scoring machine. The team defence was the best of the year for us and we were locked into our game plan from the tip.
“The cup game was always going to be tough as Thames Valley are a Division One-level team. Bode played a great game. AJ and Lee were quality from start to finish and Courtney and Jack provided a huge spark off the bench. Our depth continues to be a huge part of our success.
“This team is just starting to click and when we do it’s going to be scary how good we can be.”
Storm v Manchester: AJ Roberts 29, Bode Adeluola 12, Mike Darlow 11, Lee Greenan 10, Wayne Yeboah 4, Dave Ajumobi 4, Jack Burnell 3, Courtney Van-Beest 2, Chuck Duru 2, Walid Mumuni, Rhyce Donegal (inj), Tom Adorian (inj).
Storm v Thames Valley: Adeluola 23, Greenan 17, Roberts 13, Yeboah 10, Burnell 8, Van-Beest 8, Ajumobi 7, Darlow 3, Mumuni 2, Duru, Donegal (inj), Adorian (inj).
Storm have another double-header this weekend when they host ninth-ranked Bradford Dragons at Sportspace in Hemel on Saturday (tip-off 7pm) before travelling to tenth-placed Derby Trailblazers on Sunday.
For tickets, see the website www.stormbasketball.net.