Hemel Storm 98 – 92 Derby Trailblazers (National League Division One)
Hemel Storm 96 – 95 Essex Leopards (National Trophy pool game)
Hemel Storm started their 2019 campaign with two thrilling victories beating Derby Trailblazers 98 – 92 in a National League Division One game away on Saturday and then in a dramatic clash on Sunday tamed a talented Essex Leopards side 96 – 95 in front of a packed crowd at Hemel Leisure Centre.
With 0.6 of a second left and his team trailing by a point Leopard’s impressive American import Asante Sandiford who’d scored 37 points in the game was awarded two free-throws to potentially tie or win the game.
The noise from the crowd was deafening as the American stepped up to the line. His first shot hit the side of the basket and bounced out, his second grazed the front of the rim and as the crowd erupted the ball was gratefully grabbed by Storm’s 6’ 9” centre Tom Adorian.
Sunday’s National Trophy pool win was achieved without Storm’s starting point guard Bode Adeluola who was injured in Derby the previous night, or his back-up Ian Berry, so Head Coach Robert Youngblood relied on the experienced former GB international Levi Noel to orchestrate his team’s offence.
Noel responded brilliantly throwing eight assists and nailing the crucial go-ahead three-pointer that secured the win.
But in two outstanding team performances Vanarama-sponsored Storm’s scoring hero was Blayne Freckleton who sank 35 points in each game including 13 triples at a stunning combined average success rate of 58 per cent. And he led his team’s rebounding against Derby with 11 boards.
Basketball England has awarded Freckleton the ‘NBL Division One Player of the Week Award’.
“It was a great weekend for us, a real team effort from everyone,” said a delighted Coach Youngblood, “winning is a habit, that’s three in a row now and you can be sure that we’ll be working hard to keep it going.
“The guys executed the game plan against Derby to perfection and we closed the game out well whereas before Christmas we’d struggled in similar situations.
“Against Essex, better second half defence and rebounding were the keys, in the end we out-rebounded them 51 – 45. We also gave up 20 points fewer than in the first half so after fighting back from the half-time deficit we were able to win the third quarter 26 - 19 and tie the last period.”
Hemel’s win against Leopards means they finish joint top of their National Trophy pool in a tie with Reading Rockets but the Berkshire team advances to the semi-finals on the head-to-head result.
On Saturday Hemel exploded offensively in the first period as Freckleton hit six of his game high seven three-pointers and Leome Francis – returning to his former Club – controlled the rebounding.
With help from his teammates Francis was able to shackle Trailblazers’ American star and NBL standout Malcolm Smith who eventually finished with a below average 17 points.
Hemel led 31 – 20 after the first period and 60 – 47 at half-time. In a more even second half Derby’s pressing defence caused problems for the visitors and coupled with some defensive lapses by Hemel the home team was allowed to get back on terms, 86 – 87, with just four minutes to play.
But Storm held their nerve. A jump shot by Bode Adeluola, Freckleton’s seventh three-pointer and a Francis power lay-up re-established Hemel’s lead and they sealed victory with free-throws from Noel and Francis.
On Sunday Hemel’s sluggish perimeter defence and poor rebounding in the first half allowed Essex to get on top 57 – 51 by the end of the second period, but Storm switched their defensive strategy for a few of Leopards’ early possessions in the third period and the visitors’ attacks came up empty while Hemel ran off 10 straight points.
Noel, Francis and Adorian all found the basket to give Storm a 61 – 57 edge and force a Leopards’ time-out.
The teams traded baskets and went into the final period with Essex 77 – 76 ahead. No more than three points separated the squads and with less than a minute to play the visitor’s Lee Hodges who was on Storm’s National Cup winning squad last season hit a lay-up for his new Club to snatch a 95 – 93 lead.
But on the next possession a momentary mix-up in the Essex defence left Hemel’s Noel with space to fire a three-pointer, the veteran guard’s shot splashed through the basket to restore his team’s lead 96 – 95 and set-up the game’s dramatic climax.
Storm’s Associate Head Coach Dave Titmuss said: “Our fans – the StormTroopers - were fantastic tonight, they truly were our sixth man. There’s no question they’re the best in the country.
“It was an important win for us, we’re carrying injuries and having to make adjustments on the fly. We’ve struggled in the first half of the season to win close games so the victories at the weekend are added motivation to work harder and smarter to become a better team.”
Storm team and scorers v Derby: Blayne Freckleton 35, Leome Francis 18, Bode Adeluola 16, Levi Noel 12, Jack Burnell 11, Leon Henry 4, Tom Adorian 2, Jamie Hayes, Sam Dunscombe, Tom Martin, Shaquille Lewis.
Storm team and scorers v Essex: Blayne Freckleton 35, Leome Francis 22, Levi Noel 13, Tom Adorian 8, Shaquille Lewis 7, Jack Burnell 6, Leon Henry 5, Tom Martin, Sam Dunscombe.
Storm’s next National League Division One game is against Thames Valley Cavaliers at Hemel Leisure Centre on Saturday January 19th, tip-off 7pm. For tickets and information go to the "tickets & shop" tab above
Photo caption: Storm’s Blayne Freckleton – a 70 point weekend and National League Division One Player of the Week Award winner.
Photo: Lin Titmuss