Hemel Storm’s ton-up scoring machine was at full throttle in a double-header over the weekend to take them through to the National Cup last-eight and move them up to seventh in the National League Division One table.
The winning weekend started at Hemel Leisure Centre on Saturday when Storm demolished Leicester Warriors 107-77 in a league clash, producing a fine display of free-flowing offence and pressure defence.
And on Sunday Hemel came through a much sterner test away at Barking Abbey Crusaders in the fourth round of the cup, where they held their nerve against the feisty home side’s rally that saw them fight back from a 62-42 third-quarter deficit.
Storm, who are the cup holders, advanced to the quarter-finals with a 105-97 victory and will host rivals Worthing Thunder on November 18.
Hemel were without their dynamic captain Bode Adeluola for both games following a hand injury and are still waiting for the return of forward Mike Darlow from long-term ligament damage.
On Saturday all 11 of Hemel’s available players got on the score-sheet, with seven producing nine points or more, as the team had devastating first and fourth periods, connecting on 14 three-pointers and dishing out 29 assists.
A renewed focus in training on defence paid early dividends as Storm pressured Leicester into ball-handling mistakes from the tip-off and led 32-17 at the first break.
The teams traded baskets in the second and third periods, but Hemel unleashed a 34-point fourth stanza to the delight of the home fans.
Although the team is averaging just over 100 points a game, head coach Robert Youngblood said: “We have to improve our individual and team defence if we’re to be successful this season and although there’s still a long way to go, this game was a start.
“We need a more balanced mind-set between offence and defence. We’re executing well and I was delighted with the 29 assists and our rebounding, but we have to be better defensively.”
Blayne Freckleton and Leon Henry paced Hemel with 18 points apiece. The former added five rebounds and seven assists. Jack Burnell came off the bench to add 15 points, five boards and three assists, while Will Ashby had 10 points, three assists and four steals.
On Sunday, three triples from top-scorer Henry and another long-distance make from Freckleton, together with determined rebounding by Levi Noel and Tom Adorian (eight boards each), calmed the visitors’ nerves and stunted Barking’s last-quarter rally.
In an intense battle, Hemel had built a 55-42 half-time advantage on the back of excellent defence and drawing fouls on over-zealous defending by the hosts.
Storm were still ahead 85-75 after a competitive third period, but some indifferent attacking and slack defence threatened to open the door to Barking before a final flourish avoided the cup upset.
Associate head coach Dave Titmuss said afterwards: “We began to put pressure on ourselves in that last period with a lack of ball and player movement on offence.
“But it was a good test of our mental toughness and we obviously came through it well.”
Storm team and scorers v Warriors: Leon Henry 18, Blayne Freckleton 18, Jack Burnell 15, Will Ashby 10, Tom Adorian 9, Levi Noel 9, Leome Francis 9, Ian Berry 7, Jamie Hayes 5, Sam Dunscombe 5, and Tom Martin 2.
Team and scorers v Barking: Leon Henry 27, Blayne Freckleton 23, Jamie Hayes 12, Leome Francis 10, Will Ashby 10, Levi Noel 10, Tom Adorian 9, Jack Burnell 3, Ian Berry 1, Sam Dunscombe and Tom Martin.
Storm’s travel to 12th-placed Team Newcastle in the league this Saturday, then return home to Hemel Leisure Centre next Saturday, November 10, for another league clash against fourth-ranked Bradford Dragons (tip-off 7pm). For tickets, visit www.stormbasketball.net.