Hemel Storm came within two seconds of pulling off a third consecutive National League Division One win on Saturday but were denied at the death, 90-91 on the road at Leicester Warriors.
With the score tied at 90-90, Storm conceded free-throws to Warriors’ American guard Taylor Johnson who was fouled driving to the basket.
Johnson sank one of the two shots from the foul line for a last-gasp win for the hosts.
Hemel trailed 68-73 going into the final period but their free-flowing offence helped them fight back and send the game to its dramatic climax.
A Bode Adeluola lay-up with less than a minute left gave the visitors an 89-87 edge.
And a determined defensive stand on Leicester’s next possession won the ball back for Hemel and once again it was Adeluola who broke down the home team’s defence but this time he was fouled when attempting a lay-up. He sank one of the two free-throws to put his team 90-87 ahead.
With 40 seconds remaining Leicester’s Johnson broke free and his three-point attempt swished through the basket to tie the score at 90-90.
On their final possession Storm worked the ball to sharp-shooting guard Blayne Freckleton but his jump-shot bounced off the basket to give Warriors a chance to win.
Hemel head coach Robert Youngblood, a noted defensive specialist in his playing days, said: “We have the potential to be a much better defensive team than we’re showing and that will be our focus from here on in.
“Right now we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves at the offensive end and although we’re very capable of scoring well, it’s a tough way for us to win because our defensive lapses are constantly giving opponents the chance to stay with us.
“We’ve just got to lock down on defence in our remaining games and do all of those little things that make such a big difference to winning and losing.”
With other results at the weekend going to form, Storm remain one place above the relegation zone in 12th position but they still have 11 games to go so can potentially climb the table and fight for a spot in the end-of-season, top-eight National Championship playoffs.
Each of Storm’s starters on Saturday hit double-figures, with recent signing 6ft 7ins American TrayVonn Wright leading the pack with 25 points (seven rebounds and two assists), Adeluola on 22, Levi Noel 14, Freckleton 12 and centre Leome Francis sinking 10 against his former club.
Storm started brightly but although they ended the first period 25-22 up there were signs that they were struggling to contain a recently-strengthened Warriors outfit.
In a possession-by-possession battle Leicester were able to consistently snare offensive rebounds and get second shot attempts. A Martin Gayle two-pointer gave the hosts a 48-46 half-time lead.
Leicester extended their lead in the third period to as many as eight points before Hemel’s fightback in the final stanza which was led by some timely scoring from Wright.
Associate head coach Dave Titmuss, speaking about Hemel’s defensive woes, said: “Sometimes even really good defence is beaten by terrific offensive play, but that’s not always what happens in our case.
“But we have a great opportunity now to really improve defensively both individually and as a team.
“When we don’t have lapses at the defensive end, we’re as good as any team in the country.”
Storm team and scorers at Warriors: TrayVonn Wright 25, Bode Adeluola 22, Levi Noel 14, Blayne Freckleton 12, Leome Francis 10, Will Ashby 3, Jamie Hayes 2, Tom Adorian 2, Leon Henry, Jack Burnell and Shaquille Lewis.
Storm are at Hemel Leisure Centre this Saturday against fifth-placed Essex Leopards in another crucial National League Division One clash.
Tip-off is at 7pm. For tickets or more information visit the website www.stormbas ketball.net.