Hemel Storm produced their best game of a disappointing season when they beat reigning league champions Reading Rockets 75-72 at a noisy Sportspace on Sunday.
A tense and close game went all the way to the last second before Trilogy-it sponsored Storm could claim the scalp of their high-flying rivals – hitting 11 three-pointers to Reading’s two.
The first quarter started slowly for both sides, with the only score in the first three minutes being a jump-shot from Hemel’s star guard Bode Adeluola.
A three-pointer by Walid Mumuni gave the home side the lead at 7-5 halfway through the period, which a long three from Carl Josey extended a couple of minutes later.
Hemel were really on a roll now and a further triple from skipper Simon Kearney threatened to give Storm a sizeable lead at the first break – but six consecutive free-throws by the Rockets held that lead to just three at 21-18.
Reading scored the first six points of the second quarter, but consecutive threes by Josey and Darren Best put Hemel ahead three minutes in.
Hemel’s changing defences were causing the visitors problems and the lead swung back and forth for the rest of the half before a late Adeluola triple sent his team in at half-time with a single point advantage at 39-38.
Once again the third quarter was nip and tuck all the way and, even when the away side opened up a five-point gap, Hemel came back to level the game when Mumuni tipped in an Adeluola three-point attempt just before the buzzer to make it 53-53.
It was Reading that started the final stanza in the ascendency as they reopened their five-point lead, despite another three-pointer from Josey.
And it was that man Josey, with no little help from Kearney, who continued to impress and pulled Storm right back into the game.
Yet another triple, this time by Adeluola, and a long two by big man Tom Adorian gave Hemel the lead by one point with less than three minutes to play.
Best preserved the advantage with just 80 seconds left, burying a nice lay-up under the basket.
With 21 seconds remaining and the crowd in a frenzy, Adeluola put up a long three which rolled right around the rim before dropping in to give Hemel a priceless two point lead at 74-72.
Adorian increased the advantage by one from the free-throw line with just 12 seconds left, before the final buzzer sounded on a great night for Storm.
The game came just 24 hours after Storm lost a heartbreaker at the league’s second-placed team Essex Leopards.
Leading by 12 points at the end of the first quarter, 23-11, the Leopards gradually fought back to tie the game at the end of the third 51-51.
But Storm just couldn’t hold on for the last 10 minutes and Essex ran out 73-66 winners. Adeluola top-scored for Hemel with 23, Best got 14 and Michael Darlow 12.
After the Reading game, a delighted Storm head coach Steve Darlow said: “We really needed that – it was a marvellous win, especially after the disappointment of last night.
“Our defence and the three point shot were the keys.”
Hemel’s director of coaching Dave Titmuss, who is a former Rockets head coach and led them to a perfect 36-0 season in 2009, added: “Some things don’t show up on a stat sheet; you can’t measure heart and spirit and we had both in spades tonight.
“It was a great performance and memorable victory against a very talented Reading team.”
Meanwhile, Hemel’s U18 team continued their great run of form with a 69-58 win over Westminster Warriors to keep alive their hopes of reaching the Southern Premier League play-offs.
Hemel Storm’s next home game is at Sportspace on Saturday, March 14 at 7pm against Worthing Thunder in a National League Division One game.
The game will be preceded by the Storm U18 side who will take on the London Westside Rangers in a Southern Premier League game at 4.15pm.
Tickets and more information can be found at www.stormbasketball.net