Hemel Storm bounced back from a tight one-point loss in Reading on Saturday to defeat Ipswich 83-76 at home on the Sunday to progress to the fourth round of the National Cup.
After a gutsy fight-back from a ten-point deficit in the last two minutes of their National League Division One clash against Reading, Storm’s Michael Darlow stepped up to take two free-throws with his team trailing by two points, 95-93, with a couple of seconds left and a chance to take the game into overtime.
Darlow’s first shot swished through the net but his second missed and the rebound was grabbed by Hemel’s new American signing A J Roberts whose off-balance and heavily challenged attempt at a winning shot fell short.
AJ’s debut for Storm was impressive as the 6ft 5ins Californian guard top-scored with 26 points and also grabbed three rebounds, added four assists and stole the ball twice.
Although the effort of the previous day was evident in Hemel’s play on the Sunday, for this weekend double-header, they used a dominant 33-17 third-quarter run to recover from a six-point half-time deficit (37-31) and open a 10-point gap to secure a lead they never surrendered.
During the half-time team talk head coach Robert Youngblood instructed his team to pressure the visitors all over the court.
His players responded, forcing Ipswich into passing mistakes which Hemel pounced on for easy scores, much to the delight of their noisy Sportspace fans.
Hemel’s 7ft centre Lee Greenan faced his former club for the first time since his move to Storm in the summer and top-scored with 18 points.
He showed some powerful and skilful moves around the key to register his highest score of the season so far, including three crowd-pleasing dunks.
Wayne Yeboah and Storm captain Bode Adeluola were also a handful for the visitors, finishing with 12 and 11 points respectively.
Hemel will now face Division One outfit Crusaders on the road in the next round after the Kent side defeated Lewisham Thunder 83-41.
Storm’s first league game of the season the day before saw them mount a spirited challenge against Reading after a poor start defensively found them trailing 30-24 after the first-quarter.
But some changes in Hemel’s line-up produced a much-improved second stanza as the Rockets were held to just 16 points to leave the teams locked at 46-46 going into the half-time break.
Reading restored their offensive advantage in the third-quarter and went into the final frame ahead by five points after some accurate shooting from American Jerrod Hendricks (22 points) and Australian Declan Soukup (18 points).
With two minutes remaining and Storm trailing 84-94, a great defensive effort then held the home side to just one more point while Yeboah hit two jump shots, Walid Mumuni sank a three-pointer and Adeluola scored from a driving lay-up.
The game’s dramatic free-throw climax was set-up when Darlow was fouled by Reading’s American centre Tim Gill.
After assessing both games, Youngblood said: “We’re just not playing as hard or together defensively as I know we’re going to have to as the season goes on.
“I’m confident that we’re going to be able to score well, we have a nice balance in the team from that standpoint.
“But unless we commit more to defence, both individually and as a team, we’re going to end up hoping we can win with offence which is not the way to win consistently.
“We’re not hitting our defensive goals at the moment so that’s where our focus is right now.”
Team and scorers v Reading: AJ Roberts 26, Walid Mumuni 18, Bode Adeluola 16, Wayne Yeboah 11, Mike Darlow 11, David Ajumobi 6, Lee Greenan 4, Tom Adorian 2, Nick Allin, Jack Burnell, Chuck Duru and Courtney Van-Beest.
Against Ipswich: Greenan 18, Yeboah 12, Adeluola 11, AJ Roberts 10, Darlow 9, Burnell 9, Adorian 7, Van-Beest 4, Mumuni 3, Ajumobi, Allin and Duru.
Next up for Storm is a home National League Division One clash this Saturday when they entertain Team Newcastle University.
Tip-off is at 7pm.
Tickets and information is available via the website www.stormbasketball.net.