Without injured star guard Bode Adeluola or power forward Damian Edwards, a depleted Hemel Storm used only seven players to record a sensational win against Bradford Dragons in front of a capacity crowd at Sportspace.
The 86-80 victory avenged an away league defeat to Bradford in January and earns Hemel a home draw in the top-eight National Championship playoffs that start at the weekend.
The win capped a fine season for Storm who finished fourth in Division One – the highest placed all-British team in the competition.
Storm will play Team Northumbria on Saturday at Sportspace, tip-off 7pm – a team who have beaten them twice already this season.
Against Bradford, Storm’s 6ft 9ins centre Tom Adorian produced his best performance of the season, top-scoring with 33 points, grabbing six rebounds and hitting all seven of his free-throws.
A determined Hemel got off to the perfect start as they jumped out to a 20-8 lead, but Bradford’s American centre Nicholas Moore responded to help his team close the gap to 22-15 as the first quarter ended.
Hemel’s 18-year-old back-up point guard Nick Allin took on the ball-handling role of the injured Adeluola and delighted the home crowd as he confidently controlled his team’s offence under intense pressure from Bradford’s Spanish guard Adria Vinas.
Hemel held a 41-36 advantage at the half-time break, before a possession by possession battle throughout the third quarter ended with a driving lay-up by Nik Rhodes to restore a three-point edge at 60-57.
With less than two minutes to go, Storm’s Rhodes stole the ball and found a sprinting Adorian with a full-court pass that the Hemel centre slammed through the basket to put daylight between the teams and open a six point lead.
Despite two Bradford free-throws and a three-pointer from Vinas, Storm’s co-captain Simon Kearney held his nerve to hit three out of four free-throws and seal a memorable victory.
On the final buzzer the court was rushed by fans as the Hemel players and coaches raised their arms in triumph.
“Given our situation with injuries, the fact that we had lost to Bradford previously and what was at stake in the game, this was a wonderful win,” said a delighted Storm co-coach Dave Titmuss. “It was a terrific team effort and Tom (Adorian) was simply outstanding.
“We’ve got a week now to prepare for Northumbria and can only hope that our injured players have time to recover.
“Unfortunately things don’t look promising at the moment but I would never count this Storm team out; our spirit, determination and fantastic fans got us through tonight and we can do it again in the playoffs.”
Storm’s team and scorers: Adorian 33, Rhodes 20 (and seven assists) Mumuni 11, Kearney 11, Darlow 5 (and 11 rebounds), Wood 4, Allin 2, Rodwell.
The National Champion Play-Off quarterfinal is on Saturday at Sportspace, tip-off 7pm. More information and tickets can be found at www.stormbasketball.net