Hemel Storm 98 v 75 Reading Rockets (National League Division One – Play off Semi Finals)
Hemel Storm are headed for their second national final of an historic season after a magnificent performance and 98 – 75 victory over Reading Rockets in the semi-final of the National League Division One Championship Play-Offs at Hemel Hempstead Leisure Centre on Saturday.
Hemel, who in January won the National Cup, were roared on by their usual packed crowd and despite extra seating being provided it was standing room only for some fans as tip-off time approached.
For the second week in a row Vanarama-sponsored Storm who are seeded seventh in the Championship defied the odds and upset a higher seed, last week it was the number two ranked Solent Kestrels and on Saturday the third seed Rockets who Hemel had lost to 94 – 95 early in the League season but beaten 88 – 81in January. Saturday’s loss ended Reading’s impressive run of ten consecutive victories.
Storm will now face Worthing Thunder in the Final at the National Basketball Performance Centre in Manchester on Sunday April 29th., tip-off 3.30pm.
In a competitive and hard played clash Reading’s American centre Tim Gill was ejected from the game half way through the decisive third period following an unprovoked incident under the Hemel basket as Storm’s unstoppable offence threatened to dominate the game.
Frustrations appeared to spill over as Storm burst into a 64 – 49 lead on the back of a Mike Darlow three-pointer and a series of lock-down defensive possessions when Reading was denied any easy scoring opportunities by Hemel’s impressive pressure defence.
“That third quarter was decisive,” said Hemel Head Coach Robert Youngblood. “We already had a ten point lead at half-time and Reading were chasing the game. We were executing really well on offence and our scoring was coming from everyone on court, we weren’t reliant on one or two guys having a big game.
“But even though we were scoring at a consistent rate it was our defensive pressure that made it hard for them to get any offensive rhythm. We’d worked in practice during the week on stopping Reading’s fast break game and then neutralising them in the half court. They had zero fast break points. It was a great team performance from our guys.”
For the third game in a row Storm started the game with their ‘twin towers’ line-up featuring seven foot centre Lee Greenan and six foot nine inch Hemel veteran forward Tom Adorian alongside American guard AJ Roberts, captain and point guard Bode Adeluola and forward Mike Darlow.
Adorian in his sixth season with Storm rolled back the years and made a major contribution to his team’s victory hitting 17 points, grabbing 7 rebounds and throwing three assists finishing, statistically, as the most efficient Hemel player.
And Storm’s overall work ethic throughout the game was epitomised in one play as Greenan grabbed several rebounds from missed shots and finished with a powerful slam as the crowd erupted.
Both sides played efficiently in the opening exchanges and traded baskets with neither able to gain an edge until with the scores at 26 – 25 to Storm, Adeluola drove inside the Reading defence for a lay-up followed by a jump-shot and a Greenan dunk to open daylight between the teams, 32 – 27 as the first period ended.
In a carbon copy second period and with the scores at 42 – 41 to Hemel the visitors were held scoreless for the last two minutes of the stanza while Adorian, Adeluola, Greenan and Dave Ajumobi found the basket to increase the Hemel lead to 51 – 41 as the half-time buzzer sounded. Hemel restricted the normally high scoring visitors to just 14 points in the period.
The fourth period was a formality and when Darlow nailed consecutive three-pointers and then Roberts also sank a long-range triple from an Adorian assist, Storm had their biggest lead of the game, 31 points, with the scoreboard showing 95 – 64.
A late flurry of triples from the visitors wasn’t enough to trouble the home team who held the ball in the final seconds as the crowd gave their team a standing ovation.
After the game Coach Youngblood was already thinking of the Final: “We’ve beaten a higher seed in the quarter-finals, we’ve beaten a higher seed in the semi-finals and now we have an opportunity to beat a higher seeded team again in the Championship Final.
“We defeated a very good Reading team tonight that was on an impressive winning run, we’ll enjoy this now but then get down to work over the next two weeks and prepare to face Worthing. We want to bring some more silverware back to the town!”
Storm has played the Thunder twice this season in National League Division One games, losing on the south coast 72 – 78 but winning at home, 91 – 89.
The match facts against Reading show that Hemel led in each of three key statistical areas: Storm shot at a 48 per cent success rate to Rockets’ 42; they threw a stunning 28 assists against Reading’s 19 and outrebounded the visitors 45 – 34 including grabbing 15 offensive boards to Reading’s six. Storm also had six players scoring in double figures compared to Rockets’ three.
Storm team and scorers: Bode Adeluola 18, AJ Roberts 17, Tom Adorian 17, Mike Darlow 16, Wayne Yeboah 12, Lee Greenan 12, Dave Ajumobi 3, Chuck Duru 2, Ladi Brown 1, Jack Burnell, Courtney Van-Beest, Walid Mumuni.
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From the top...
Tom Adorian – Storm’s most efficient player
Mike Darlow – led Storm with nine assists
AJ Roberts – sank four three-pointers
Bode Adeluola – Hemel skipper top-scored with 18 points
Photos: Lin Titmuss