Hemel Storm 57 v 67 Worthing Thunder (National Championship Play-offs Final)
Hemel Storm’s bid to win a second national title this season fell short in Manchester on Sunday when they lost in the Championship Play-Offs Final 67 – 57 to Worthing Thunder.
Despite a stellar defensive performance and a gutsy fight back from being 18 points down in the third quarter to only four with five minutes left to play, Hemel just could not consistently find the basket and ended with their lowest individual game score of the season.
The clash which matched the fourth seeded Thunder against the seventh seed Storm who had pulled off upset victories against number two ranked Solent Kestrels and third seed Reading Rockets to reach the Final, was the showpiece of Basketball England’s NBL Finals weekend played at the National Basketball Performance Centre.
Hundreds of loyal Storm fans travelled to support their team hoping for a repeat of the Club’s National Cup victory in January but while their team’s defensive game plan was executed well only two Hemel players hit double figure scoring – Michael Darlow with 12 and American guard AJ Roberts with 10.
It was a frustrating performance from a Storm side that had shown great form and determination to reach the Final as their shooting success rate dropped to just 33 per cent despite them getting some excellent opportunities from close range and from behind the three-point line where they connected on just four of 19 attempts.
A disappointed Hemel Coach Robert Youngblood said: “We shot the ball horrendously today. I thought early on we had good tempo and were getting the ball inside well but apart from the opening five minutes we just struggled to put the ball in the basket.
“Worthing is a relatively small team so we wanted them to have to match up with us, and especially with the height of Lee (Greenan) and Tom (Adorian). We did a pretty good job of guarding the three-point line (Worthing only made six of 25 attempts) and we made them put the ball on the floor. But we just couldn’t stay with their speed.
“It’s a tough loss because we held them to 67 points and normally we’d expect to win a game with an opponent’s score-line like that. It was a game when none of our top offensive performers could get going, you can credit Worthing’s defence for some of that but we also missed some very makeable shots.
“But we won’t let this one result sour what has been a really successful season. The guys have been great, they’ve worked very hard and been committed to being the best team possible representing the town around the country.
“I’m proud of what’s been achieved and especially for all of the fantastic volunteers, fans and sponsors who without question make this the best Club in Division One.”
Vanarama sponsored-Storm started brightly and led 10 – 8 after five minutes but as their offence began to stutter Worthing edged ahead and never looked back despite Hemel mounting numerous challenges throughout the game.
By the end of the first period Thunder was ahead 18 – 13 and took a 37 – 28 lead into the locker room at half-time after timely scoring from the Division One League MVP Zaire Taylor and Final MVP forward Marquis Mathis who accounted for 22 of their team’s points in the first half.
“Although we were down by nine at the half we weren’t overly concerned. We knew we’d played poorly on offence but I was confident we’d pick things up in the second half, chip away at the deficit and get into an end game,” said Coach Youngblood.
Despite renewed belief that they could turn things around Storm just couldn’t score consistently in the third quarter and Thunder was able to extend their lead to 54 – 42 on a Mathis three-pointer.
But Hemel showed terrific mental toughness in the final stanza and with their fans roaring them on went on a stunning 10-2 run over the first five minutes of the period as their stifling defence helped to pull them within just four points at 56 – 52.
Thunder, sensing a winning come-back by Storm, then went on a 9-2 run of their own and their opponent’s momentum was lost. Worthing was able to control the final 90 seconds and end their 12 year wait for some NBL silverware.
Worthing Coach Daniel Gayle admitted: “Hemel just kept chipping away at us in that last period and it seemed that a lid had been put on their basket, we just stopped scoring! But in the end we managed to stay composed and to finish strong.”
Dave Titmuss, Storm’s Head of Basketball Programme, commenting on the Club’s successful year said: “This was the first season of a new era for Storm. We’ve had considerably increased resources from sponsors and fans and been able to put together a truly competitive squad under new Head Coach Robert Youngblood that has brought the National Cup to the town and won through to a second national final.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that we enjoy the best support in Division One and the atmosphere at our home games is electric. From all the positive feedback we get the local community really appreciates the terrific sporting entertainment that we offer.
“Now we will build on all of the hard work that’s gone into the Storm success story so far and target more silverware next season.”
Storm squad and scorers: Michael Darlow 12, AJ Roberts 10, Wayne Yeboah 8, Dave Ajumobi 7, Lee Greenan 6, Tom Adorian 6, Bode Adeluola 4, Courtney Van-Beest 2, Walid Mumuni 2, Ladi Brown, Jack Burnell, Chuck Duru, Rhyce Donegal.
Top: Michael Darlow – Storm’s top scorer with 12 points.
Right: AJ Roberts – Close to a triple double.
(Pictures: Lin Titmuss)