Haringey Hawks come out on top in U18 Mens National Cup Battle with Reading

Haringey Hawks managed to outlast opponents Reading Rockets 73-71 in a game that see-sawed after practically every basket. By the final buzzer it was the Hawks who still held the lead, and with it, the title of Under 18 Men’s National Cup winners.

In the perfect game for the neutral, there were multiple lead changes, momentum swinging baskets, highlight plays and more. The biggest lead for either team went to Haringey at 7 points, but that advantage was typically short lived in a thrilling Final.

Franklin Agu was a deserving MVP with a game high 26 points, 17 rebounds, three assists and four steals. An incredible contribution in such a close game.

In a game with few clear cut advantages, both teams refused to give an inch and any lead was swiftly countered. Reading consistently tried to land telling blows from beyond the arc, but going 2/11 from deep in the opening frame didn’t help their cause. Sam Grant (24 points, eight rebounds, three assists) did the bulk of the work early with six of Reading’s first 17 points, but Agu was happy to counter with six points of his own.

The long range woes continued for the Rockets as they went 1-9 in the 2nd quarter (7-40 in the game) though they did manage to find more success inside. With both sides displaying terrific speed and athleticism to attack the rim, the back and forth contest continued. Two quick baskets from Cameron Morris before the main change helped the Hawks establish their biggest lead of the half, sending the teams back to their benches at 39-33.

Predictably, the 2nd half began like the 20 minutes that proceeded it. Reading reeled off six straight points to tie the scores at 39, capped by a two hand slam from Grant that got the Rockets bench on their feet. A Haringey time out allowed Coach Batimba to steady the ship and the Londoners then turned to Agu once again for quality offence. The young star delivered, scoring 12 points in the quarter to keep Reading at bay. That left the game finely poised at 59-59 with 10 minutes to go.

The 4th quarter was a low scoring affair, with nerves and fatigue both playing a part. Haringey were first to make a move, going ahead 69-64 at the frame’s midway point. Nearly three minutes would pass before either team troubled the scorers again, though fortunately for the Rockets it was Grant who popped up with a break through.

A five-point game going into the final minute, Agu went to the charity stripe four times but couldn’t convert. Reading were also unable to find the bottom of the basket and it wasn’t until 19 seconds remained that Ross Stepney (17 points, 16 rebounds, three steals, three blocks) laid one in to make it a one-score contest at 71-68. A free throw from Alex Distras (13 points, five assists, two steals) and a huge three from Grant left the Hawks up by 1, delivering the game’s pivotal moment.

Drawing the attention of the officials throughout the 2nd half, Haringey Coach Franck Batimba was assessed his 2nd technical foul with 6 ticks remaining. That meant he had to leave the game but more importantly it sent Reading to the line for a free throw. Grant stepped up for the Rockets but his shot couldn’t find the mark amid deafening noise from the Haringey fans, a killer blow with so little time remaining. From there, Haringey sealed the win as a last gasp half court effort from Grant could only find the rim.

Haringey Hawks Head Coach Franck Batimba, “It feels great to be National Cup champions. A lot of hard work goes into this so it’s well deserved. Our players remained calm under pressure and in the end they came through. Most of these guys are first years at this age so they’re doing an impressive job. They worked hard today, winning a National Cup is something to be proud of as there are always some very good teams involved.”

Reading Rockets Head Coach Ben Fisher, “That was a tough one. Close games are always the hardest, but we put ourselves in a difficult position late in the 4th quarter. We made some plays at the end of the game, had a chance with the free throw to tie it, and then we couldn’t get the three to go on the buzzer. Because it’s mid-season and the Cup, it’s still a huge learning opportunity for us. Yes, we’re disappointed and it does hurt us, but we’re still very proud as a club to reach the National Cup Final.”