A stunning Hemel Storm comeback in the last quarter led by an inspired individual performance from 7ft centre Lee Greenan turned a nine-point deficit into an 87-81 victory against Manchester Magic on Saturday
In front of a capacity crowd at Sportspace in Hemel on Saturday, Storm started the fourth and final period trailing 71-62 but Greenan dominated the session, scoring on the inside of Manchester’s defence, grabbing rebounds and helping to protect Hemel’s basket in this National League Division One game.
Hopes of Hemel moving back up the table were dashed, however, on Sunday after they lost at Bradford Dragons.
Greenan’s teammates who started the crucial fourth stanza with him on Saturday – AJ Roberts, Bode Adeluola, Wayne Yeboah and Walid Mumuni – took their cue from the big man’s outstanding play and gradually overhauled Manchester.
They combined to force their opponents into ball-handling mistakes and pressured shots, holding them to just 12 points while sinking 25 of their own.
When Storm’s AJ Roberts calmly sank two free-throws followed by a powerful Greenan inside score and a Adeluola three-pointer – all without reply – Hemel overtook Manchester to go ahead 81-75 and with three minutes left they were able to control the game for a gutsy victory.
Storm coach Robert Youngblood was delighted with the terrific response he got from Greenan, saying: “When Lee performs like that I really believe we become unstoppable.
“But it takes a team to get the job done and I was really pleased that after not taking care of the ball very well in the first half [nine turnovers], in the second we were excellent and cut those mistakes down.
“And our team defence was terrific in the fourth period and was the key to our win. We just wore Manchester down.
“To hold a team of their calibre to five field goals in a quarter took a special effort.”
The coach also noted that Storm were almost perfect from the free-throw line, nailing all but one of their 24 attempts for their highest percentage success rate of the season.
The win completed the league double over the Magic, who Storm also defeated 94-77 in the National Cup final last month. In the final, Storm’s AJ Roberts was voted MVP and his sensational performance that day meant that on Saturday he was targeted by Manchester’s defence.
But the guard rose to the challenge and again top-scored for Hemel with 22 points while also grabbing 11 rebounds and adding six assists in an all-round impressive showing under pressure .
In a fiercely competitive clash, the visitors jumped to an early 12-2 lead but as the first period closed Hemel’s Tom Adorian sank a jump-shot and knotted the scores at 17-17 before Manchester’s American guard Donte Gittens gave his team a 19-17 edge at the buzzer.
The teams swapped scores throughout the second quarter before free-throws from Yeboah and a Mike Darlow steal, lay-up and free-throw opened up daylight with Storm up 46-43 at the break.
But after the interval Hemel’s lead was extinguished as a 15-4 Magic run gave them a 60-52 advantage. The visitors maintained the margin and the third quarter ended with them 69-62 ahead.
When Magic’s Hamad Ali opened the final quarter with a mid-range shot to put his team nine points clear, things looked bleak for Storm but it seemed to trigger a determined all-or-nothing fight-back and as the final seconds ticked off the clock the Hemel players were given a standing ovation by the fans.
The Sky Sports cameras were at Sportspace on Saturday to interview club volunteers and Hemel MP Sir Mike Penning about the controversial withdrawal of Lottery funding for Britain’s national basketball teams, recently-debated in Parliament, and its impact on the sport generally.
Basketball is now the third biggest team sport in the UK, behind football and cricket, yet funding is being pulled.
In Bradford on Sunday, Storm let an early double-digit lead slip and Dragons took advantage of a misfiring Hemel in the second half, including a 19-6 third period, to run out 72-64 winners.
Storm stay sixth in the league table with five games left and are still in the hunt for a berth in the top-eight post-season playoffs
Team and scorers vs Manchester: AJ Roberts 22, Bode Adeluola 16, Wayne Yeboah 14, Lee Greenan 13 (and 10 rebounds), Tom Adorian 10, Mike Darlow 8, Courtney Van-Beest 2, Walid Mumuni 2, Ladi Brown, Chuck Duru, Jack Burnell, Dave Ajumobi.
At Bradford: Roberts 18, Adeluola 15, Greenan 9, Adorian 6, Brown 4, Ajumobi 4, Darlow 2, Burnell 2, Van-Beest 2, Mumuni 2, Yeboah, Duru.
Storm are back at Sportspace this Saturday hosting bottom-but-one side Derby Trailblazers (tip-off 7pm). For tickets or more information, visit the website www.storm basketball.net.