Hemel Storm suffered a 102-82 National League Division One defeat to league leaders Manchester Magic at a jam-packed Sportspace on Saturday.
A dominant first period led by Magic’s American star Ellis Cooper left Storm with an uphill battle against the National Cup and Trophy winners .
It was standing room only as the home crowd tried to lift their team but, despite playing the champions-elect more evenly for the rest of the game, Hemel could not claw their way back from the 33-19 first quarter blitz.
After making some defensive adjustments, Storm matched Manchester in the second period 23-23 as Hemel’s eventual top-scorer Tom Adorian (20) scored close to basket after some precision passes from the home team’s guard pairing of Nik Rhodes and Bode Adeluola.
Trailing 42-56 at half-time, a determined Storm came out in the second half and mounted a mini run, roared on by the loudest crowd of the season.
Two free-throws by Hemel co-captain Simon Kearney got his team to within five at 60-65 and forced Manchester to call a time-out.
However, a series of free-throws awarded to the visitors in the closing minutes of the period pushed their lead back out to 78-63.
The teams traded baskets for most of the final period before Manchester, who included six import players in their line-up, sank a three pointer to seal the win.
“We played with a lot of heart but Manchester were just more efficient than us,” said Hemel co-coach Dave Titmuss. “They had fewer shots than us but we allowed them to make a better percentage – half their points came from inside.
“For us to win against this kind of opposition we have to get high level performances from all of our key guys and tonight some individuals, by their own admission, were sub-par which was disappointing.
“We couldn’t have had better support though, some of the spectators had to find a place to stand!”
Despite the loss, Storm are guaranteed a place in the end of season Championship playoffs but will not play at home in the quarter-finals unless they can maintain their current fourth place in the league.
Storm team and scorers: Adorian 20, Mumuni 16, Adeluola 13, Kearney 11, Rhodes 11, Edwards 6, Wood 5, Allin, Rodwell and Darlow.
Storm’s last home game of the regular season is against Bradford Dragons on Saturday, March 26 at 7pm. Tickets and more information at www.stormbasketball.net
Meanwhile, before the game more than 40 local youngsters took part in a coaching session with some of the Storm players and coaches as part of the club’s new ‘community outreach’ programme launched last week.
After the 90-minute session, each participant received a certificate and tickets to the main game.