The game was closely contested, but the Storm hit late buckets to see out a tense finale. They led the entirety of the fourth quarter but had to fend off a late Thunder surge to lift the Trophy.
Taylor Johnson was named final MVP with a monumental 35 points, seven rebounds and four assists, playing every minute of the game. Johnson scored 14 in the fourth quarter to bring it home for Hemel. It’s Johnson’s second final MVP award of the season after he led the Storm to a National Cup win earlier in the year.
Hemel remain undefeated this season, making their name as the NBL’s premier outfit. The league’s highest-scoring offence shot 60% from the field in the game and a red-hot 14-21 from three.
Orlan Jackman led the Worthing fight with 12 points in the fourth. He finished with a team-high 23 points, dominating inside to go 8-12 from two. He was backed by Andre Arissol’s 20 points, who led an initial comeback after the Thunder fell down double digits in the second quarter.
But the Thunder could not get over the line after cutting the game to one possession. Johnson came up with critical buckets, as Worthing went scoreless for two minutes in the clutch.
From the tip, Hemel caught fire from three in a hotly contested first quarter, hitting six triples in the period to explode to an early lead. Sam Newman hit two from deep, leading his team to a 21-14 advantage.
The Thunder’s Tom Ward responded, coming up with a steal on an inbound following his midrange bucket to grab two quick scores for Worthing, making it a four-point game in the final seconds of an electric first period.
The second quarter was breathless, as Hemel started the action by hitting two threes to rebuild their lead to double digits. Johnson led the effort with five points, as the MVP found his rhythm.
But the Thunder found a way to flip the game on its head with their defence, forcing six Hemel turnovers to snatch momentum. Arissol capped off a seven-point run with a steal and a slam in transition, cutting it to a one-point game.
Arissol scored 12 points in the second, putting the Thunder on his back during the momentum shift. He hit a three to send the Worthing faithful into raptures, taking the lead for his side.
Johnson struck back for Hemel, hitting a three to conclude the half’s action with the Storm up 49-47. Johnson led the game with 15 in the first half, playing all 20 minutes.
The third period started how the second ended, as the sides traded big baskets and the lead swung back and forth. There were four lead changes in three minutes before Hemel built a narrow lead, through an electric alley-oop play between Newman and Hakeem Sylla.
They maintained a slight lead throughout the second as Johnson grew his points tally. A fastbreak jam gave him 23 on the game, keeping the Thunder at arm’s length.
The Storm, through a second-chance effort from the NBL’s leading scorer Aaryn Rai, made it a nine-point game going into the final quarter.
David Moya took the reigns to get the Thunder back in it, playing intense basketball on both ends. He made a big-time three after a steal to cut the game to two possessions, setting up an intense finale.
The team’s traded buckets, as little separated the sides until late. Jackman came up with a monster block and a score on the other end, cutting it to one score with three minutes left.
A minute later, Johnson stopped and popped from the free-throw line, hitting a clutch bucket to extend Hemel’s lead to five. Rai then hit two free throws following a foul from Ronald Blain, which saw him foul out, putting the Storm in a strong position to see the game out.
Arissol hit a corner three to make it a four-point game with a minute remaining, but Johnson finished off a layup on the fastbreak, a dagger to win the game for Hemel.
The sides will meet again later this season, as Worthing aims to prevent an invincible season in Hemel.
Report: Charlie Walker
Pictures: Carol Moir