Saturday 8th October, KitKing Trophy Semi Final
Reading Rockets 69 Hemel Storm 100
Saturday’s game saw Vanarama-sponsored Hemel Storm travel to Reading Rockets in the KitKing Trophy Semi Final. With a final spot up for grabs, both teams wanted to win this in front of a near sold out Loddon Valley Leisure Centre. It was Storm, who had a phenomenal performance, and were victorious winning 69-100 showcasing their ability to execute their game plan on defence and offence.
Storm started the game dominantly, using their aerial threat to their advantage, leading 5-8 with 2:25 gone. The link up between the guards and bigs worked to perfection. Many occasions saw Taylor Johnson unselfishly assist Sylla or Aaryn Rai using his strength to wriggle his way to the basket through contact. Although Storm could shoot the ball with high accuracy, they managed to defend their own rim very well, limiting the uncontested shots and stopping the aerial presence of former Storm player Jordan Jackson. After gaining a 16 point lead towards, the end of the quarter, Storm let some points slip at the end of the quarter with Lewis Champion scoring on the buzzer to bring both teams into the second quarter with Storm winning 17-29; so far a game which showed much promise to the travelling Storm faithful.
The second quarter was much tighter, with Rockets trying to reduce the points gap and Storm trying to put the game beyond reach. This resulted in a low scoring display and with frustration among Storm players building, coach Spinks called a timeout to calm them down. Afterwards, Storm managed to control the second quarter as they did the first and started to regain their rhythm. Rai was unlucky as the buzzer sounded for half time with Newman throwing the ball the length of the court for an alley-oop but Rai just missed the lay up. Nevertheless, it was an amazing half of basketball with the teams going into the locker room, Storm winning 33-51.
Rockets were first to return to the court with 10:30 left until the start of the quarter, meaning coach Nuruzade needed to see a reaction to liven up the good home support. They did just that reducing the 18 point lead to 12 with 5 minutes of the quarter gone, forcing Spinks into a tactical timeout. This timeout worked to perfection as Storm came out raring to go with an 0-18 run, which was a major contributing factor as to why Storm won the game in the manner that they did. Taylor Johnson began to light up from the three point line with an outstanding off-balanced shot. As well as the offensive class from Storm their excellent defence saw the brilliant hustle of the team leading to many steals, eventually resulting in fast break points in Storm’s favour. Reading needed a miracle in the last quarter to turn around the 51-79 lead Storm had worked so hard for.
The last quarter needed to be sensibly played by Storm to leap into the final, and they definitely showed that, with Rockets using this quarter to give their Academy players some experience and for Storm giving some vital minutes to players who are looking to make an impression. Jack Burnell saw joy from the three point line and managed to dunk the ball to take Storm to three digits in points. As this was a quarter for experience, the young Rockets players did themselves proud and battled to the end. The final buzzer sounded with Storm taking victory, going into the final winning 69-100; a professional and impressive display.
Storm showed that they will be competing for trophies after that performance, proving they are strong on both ends of the court. Getting to the final is an achievement for Storm and a testament to their hard work, and they go on to face Worthing Thunder in the final. Date and venue to yet be confirmed.
Storm next face Bradford Dragons on Saturday 15th October at the Hemel Hempstead Leisure Centre, 7pm before going to face London Lions II a day later in the first weekend of the NBL Division One league. Tickets for Saturday’s home game are available at www.stormbasketball.net.
Top Scorers: Hakeem Sylla: 26 points, Taylor Johnson: 22 points, Aaryn Rai and Seth Swalve: 12 points
Report by Ollie Heathcote
Photos by Joanne Charles