Hemel Storm just got over the line with a three-point victory over Nottingham Hoods on Saturday as they opened their league home schedule with a thrilling finish.
The finale of this National Basketball League Division One clash was not for the faint of heart, but Storm eventually got the job done with an 88-85 win to make it two triumphs out of two to start the season.
It was a pulsating game at Hemel Hempstead Leisure Centre against two evenly-matched sides. They had identical records last term, with Storm taking the higher league placing based on a better head-to-head record, the Hoods winning by two in Hemel, but Storm prevailing by 16 in Nottingham.
Leading by as many as 15 in the third quarter, Hemel struggled to hang on and with less than 90 seconds left the difference was three points.
But the hosts managed to stay in front, thanks in part to 7ft centre Lee Hodges.
Both teams have added two Americans to their squads, though Hemel had to play without guard Mike Williams due to visa clearance issues.
Nottingham started the brighter, breaking into an early lead while Storm tried to find a rhythm, but there was never more than four points between the teams.
Storm went on their biggest scoring run of the night before the break, posting an unanswered nine points to lead by ten at the interval.
The hosts started the second-half with a 5-0 burst to take control. Hodges took a lot of punishment around the hoop but stayed strong and proved to be unstoppable with his inside play and dominated with his rebounding skills.
The teams traded hoops as Storm held a nine- point lead going into the final stanza, when the game came alive.
Nottingham deployed a full-court press to stymie Storm’s ball-handlers, forcing turnovers and easy scores.
The visitors penetrated the Storm zone at will, with Matt Ward-Hibbert scoring from a range of positions.
Storm hit a huge stumbling block when man-of-the-match Hodges picked up his fifth and disqualifying foul midway through the quarter and with four minutes to go it was a nervy four-point game.
Hemel’s Will Ashby made two free-throws to stretch the lead to six but Nottingham reduced it to a three-point deficit with two minutes to play.
Storm were handed a lifeline when Nottingham head coach Ryan Westley and Ward-Hibbert were called for technical fouls for arguing with the referees, the later fouling out.
Hemel’s resulting free-throws should have iced the game but the usually unflappable Sam Newman missed both. Nottingham tried to make it a one-point game but a huge defensive play from Storm’s Walid Mumuni forced a tough shot and he grabbed the rebound to set Bode Adeluola away for a driving lay-up.
That should have put Storm out of sight but they turned the ball over on their next two possessions and Hoods’ Demetrius Houston reduced the lead back to three with 35 seconds left.
Hoods had a last-second chance to tie, but Storm forced a miss and played out the remaining seconds to grab a nervy, hard-fought win.
Storm head coach Dru Spinks was philosophical in victory, saying after the game: “What we need to understand is that we are still in pre-season [mode].
“I’ve only been with the team a month and we had two new players join this week.
“We are finding out a lot about each other and about us as a group.
“We want the players to show maximum commitment to each play – offensively and defensively – and at times we saw that.
“There was a lot of positives and at times our offensive execution was excellent.
“But there were also lots of opportunities to learn from, and that’s what we will do.
“I’m pleased with the win but know there is work to be done.”
Hodges finished the game with 24 points and 12 rebounds, US signing Greg Poleon hit 17 points on his Hemel debut and Ashby added another 13 points.
Storm are back at home in league action again this Saturday (7pm tip-off) when they host Westminster Warriors, who lost 79-84 in their season-opener last Saturday to Barking Abbey.