Curtain falls on NBL regular season as Kent claim D2M title and Doncaster go down

D2M
Team Newcastle University 67 v 71 Kent Crusaders

30 points from RJ Eytle-Rock was enough to inspire a come from behind win for Kent as they secured the D2M title. Trailing by 3 heading into the 4th quarter, the Crusaders rallied behind their young talisman on a day when John Shodipo was unusually quiet.

It was looking good for the hosts early as solid play enabled them to move out to 38-35 lead at the half, but despite 29 points from Roman Nelson, Newcastle couldn’t hang on. Richard Austin was also contained throughout as the Knight’s star man was closely guarded. He finished on 12.

Whilst the result crowns Kent as the D2M winners, both teams had secured promotion to D1 before tip. That means heart break for Thames Valley as they face the prospect of another season outside of the top flight.

Kent celebrate with the D2M trophy - Barking Abbey

Doncaster Danum Eagles 67 v 79 London Greenhouse Pioneers

Doncaster confirmed an immediate return to D3 North after they were relegated following a loss to London Greenhouse Pioneers. The Eagles were promoted last season with Team Newcastle but those two sides have had significantly different fates this year.

In a win and you’re safe scenario, both teams gave it their all in their final game of the regular season. The Pioneers used a commanding 2nd quarter to pull away to a 49-36 lead after 20 minutes. With Dean Prosenica leading all scorers on 18, the visitors never provided the Eagles with a way back into the game after 2 even quarters in the 3rd and 4th.

Survival for the Pioneers will be a huge relief after a season they will be happy to put behind them. Following a strong start and a place near the top of the table, NBL sanctions meant the forfeit of most of the London sides wins due to the fielding of ineligible players. To retain their D2M status despite those actions means the Pioneers can use the off-season to take stock and make a challenge to the D2M standings on a clean slate next year.

London Westside 62 v 78 Kent Crusaders

Westside will need to travel to Ipswich in the 1st round of the playoffs after faltering against Kent to finish in 5th place. Marcus Anderson scored 22 for the hosts and young star Kayne Henry-McCalla added 21 more but it wasn’t enough against a Crusaders team on a mission.

The win set up Kent’s title decider with Newcastle on Sunday, which they subsequently won to cap a great weekend and a successful season. Able to handle to pressure here, Coach Gardner’s side stifled Westside in the 2nd half, limiting the home side to just 20 points to end the contest.

D1M
Worthing Thunder 110 v 113 Essex Leopards (after 2OT)

In a dead rubber at the bottom of the D1 table, the fans in Worthing were still treated to a real show on Saturday night as Coach Hildreth signed off on his tenure with the South Coast club.

In a great advert for the game, both sides played with terrific heart and tempo in a back and forth affair that even included some free basketball. Lyonell Gaines once again impressed as he compiled a stat line of 43 points, 13 rebounds and 8 steals. Finishing both halves strong, Worthing went on a 14-0 tear before half time to move into a 44-40 lead, then utilised a 10-2 spurt in the 4th to help force the game into OT before coming up short.

It’s gutting not to have won, but I’m still incredibly proud of the guys and how they performed,” Hildreth said. “It was a shame that there had to be a loser to be honest, but my guys were brilliant not just tonight but throughout the season. Our final league standing doesn’t reflect us as a team as we have busted our butts all season long and I’m glad that Worthing Thunder will be playing Division 1 basketball next season.

Daniel Hildreth addresses his team during a time out - Kyle Hemsley

Manchester Magic 75 v 71 Reading Rockets

In a regular season finale with a playoff feel, 2 strong teams battled hard in Manchester before the Magic were able to emerge with a win. That victory cemented 2nd place for last season’s champions with the Rockets falling to successive defeats and the 3rd seed.

Chris Hooper was influential in the 1st half, doing most of the damage for the Rockets before getting into foul trouble early in the 2nd quarter. Heading to the bench, the Magic were able to take a hold of things and led 40-29 at the half.

Despite a depleted roster, Reading weren’t going down without a fight and led by Dan Carter and the ever impressive Craig Ponder, the Rockets worked hard to reduce the deficit. Trailing 70-63 with a minute to go, the game appeared to have gotten away from the visitors. Up stepped Carter though who nailed 3 shots in a row and in the blink of an eye it was a 1-point game to the Magic at 72-71 with 20 seconds to go. A Duane Morgan free throw found the mark for Manchester before a Ponder drive and lay up rolled agonisingly round the rim and out to seal the result barring free throws.

Magic captain Jack Minister commented after the game, “It’s happened to us a few times at home where we’ve had a lead and we’ve let the other team come back in, but it’s a good learning process for us and we didn’t let them control the game in the end”. When asked about Magic’s post-season prospects, Minister added, “I want a re-match with Northumbria, but to get there we’re going to have to play some good teams.  I’m not sure who we’re going to be seeded against but the key for us is that it’s home court advantage and when we play at home we’re tough to beat. We’re going to go in with some serious confidence when we’re playing at home.

Bradford Dragons 90 v 86 London Lituanica

Despite only having 6 players this weekend, the shorthanded Lituanica side held their own in Bradford and nearly escaped with a win. Leading for large periods, it was only a leggy 4thquarter that proved their undoing as the Dragons roared back to claim the win.

Rihards Sulcs finished with a game high 30 for Bradford as he and Rafi Saipe shared the load on offence with the continued absence of Ricky Fetske. The win sees Bradford finish the season in 7th and the Dragons now face a tough trip to Manchester to start their playoff run. For Lituanica, a 3-9 record from the start of February onwards means the side miss the post season despite having a squad capable of competing at this level.

Hemel Storm 88 v 72 Derby Trailblazers

Hemel completed the season double over Derby and enter the playoffs as a form team after 4 wins and a loss in their last 5 to end the regular season. The Trailblazers were all but guaranteed of a 4th place finish regardless of the result here but will still have been hoping for a win.

After a relatively even start, Hemel used a strong 2nd quarter to pull away. Heading into the 3rd up 43-34, Khapri Alston put on another physically dominant performance. The American finished with 17 points as the Storm keep their visitors at bay and secured a win. As when the teams last met, the story of the game was once again Derby’s inability to cope with the physical presence of the hosts. Totalling a whopping 66 team rebounds, Hemel dominated their opponents on the glass and inside. Alston epitomised the effort and finished with 18 boards. In reply, Chris Taylor led the way for Derby and finished with 25. Brian Amabilino-Perez was once again a factor, the youngster had 17 for the Trailblazers.

Derby Head Coach Matt Shaw knew there was a simply answer when asked how his team came unstuck, "One of the key factors was the rebounding battle, it was an area we really struggled. Hemel got a lot of second chances and often those were converted right around the basket. We didn't get a lot going offensively. Credit to Hemel for doing a good job making us take tough shots. But we didn't move the ball very well and didn't get into our tempo or rhythm.

After yet another win, Storm Head Coach David Allin summed up the conclusion to the season: “At Christmas I set a very optimistic and challenging objective of getting to 13 wins by the end of the season.  Today, I am very pleased to say that we achieved that goal.  It’s been an amazing turnaround and I’m extremely proud of the effort the players have put in.  Today’s win over Derby was a fitting finale – the crowd was absolutely incredible and I think we put on a good show for them.

Lancashire Spinners 93 v 95 Leicester Warriors (after 2OT)

With neither side heading for the playoffs, these 2 teams didn’t want the season to end as they played out a double OT thriller in Lancashire on Saturday. 18-year-old Konrad Kantorski dropped a team high 23 points for the Spinners and American Rodney Sanders enjoyed the same output for the Warriors in a great spectacle for the neutral.

A dramatic finish didn’t appear on the cards heading into the 4th. With the Warriors in command at 58-49, the Spinners came out firing to begin the final frame and turns the game on its head. With 90 seconds left, it was actually the hosts who had grabbed a lead at 73-67. A 6-0 Leicester run evened the score up though and the teams headed for OT. Back and forth in the extra periods, the visitors held on behind points from Sanders and Carl Pearson to finish their season on a high.

Loughborough Student Riders 84 v 56 Westminster Warriors

Westminster completed a tough season with a final loss on the road, but Loughborough were able to start a successful weekend with a solid win against the division’s basement team. Jonas Dieterich top scored for the Riders with 16 and Josh Ward-Hibbert had 13 more.

The hosts started hot and leapt out to a 15-7 lead early after a tentative first period before the game opened up and the scoreboard began to tick over. At 36-22 to Loughborough at the half, the game then started to get out of hand in the 3rd as the Riders further pressed home their superiority and their lead moved towards the 30-point mark.

Josh Ward-Hibbert enjoyed a good weekend and helped Loughborough grab a pair of wins - Joe Pinchin

Derby Trailblazers 73 v 84 Loughborough Student Riders

The Riders weekend got twice as nice 24 hours later as they handled a strong Derby side on their own court to finish the regular season on a 3 game winning streak.

Josh Ward-Hibbert was a consistent threat against his former club and helped the Loughborough cause with a game high 23 points. Leading 23-16 after 1, the Trailblazers then fell away as the visitors claimed the remaining 3 quarters and with it a confidence boosting win.

Derby may have had nothing to play for in the standings with their 4th place finish all but confirmed, these 2 sides will replay this fixture next weekend to begin the playoffs. After enjoying a victory here, Loughborough are sure to feel they can triumph over the Trailblazers in the post season as well. "As things worked out, the Riders win means they finish fifth so we'll face them again next week,” said Derby Head Coach Matt Shaw. “That makes this game a more interesting one to reflect on. We will take a look at the things we did well and where we need to improve as well. The good news is that we know we can and have played a lot better than we did today, so it should be a fun week getting ready."

Team Northumbria 82 v 71 Team Solent Kestrels

A 10 game winning streak to end the season was enough to crown Team Northumbria as the best team in D1M and they enjoyed a triumphant return to the North East on Sunday as they topped Team Solent.

Blayne Freckleton used the game as an opportunity to come to the fore, scoring a game high 22 points after a solid season for Northumbria. Trailing 26-8 after the 1st quarter, Solent’s slow start made a difficult game all that much harder. That said, they bounced back well in the 2nd to close the gap as the Kestrels upped their intensity. It wouldn’t be enough though as Team Northumbria regained their focus and kept their opponents at arm’s length for the remainder.

It was a bit heated at times!” commented Northumbria Head Coach Marc Steutel. “Our guys are trying to compete and at the end of the day it’s a competition. It’s basketball. I think teams are coming here and upping their game to try and beat us because of how impressive we’ve been this season. However, it’s a good thing and I’m glad we’ve put our programme into the position where that’s the case. It ensures we’re getting the best out of our players.

D1W

Southwark Pride 58 v 54 Reading Rockets

Southwark finished their season strong but were run close by a plucky Reading side on Saturday. The win kept Southwark’s 100% home win record intact and their court won’t be somewhere any side wants to visit in the post season.

Guard Khaleah Edwards exploded for an impressive 35-point haul, finding a way to power the Southwark side time and again on the afternoon. The Pride were in unfamiliar territory early though, trailing 13-8 after 10 minutes. From there however, normal service was resumed. A dominant 3rd quarter put the hosts up 46-40 with 10 minutes to go and Southwark sealed the win from there.

Khaleah Edwards hit a rich vein of form this weekend and will be hoping it continues into the playoffs for Southwark - Mansoor Ahmed

Essex Blades 52 v 55 Southwark Pride (after 1 OT)

In the end, Southwark enjoyed a 2 win weekend but their game on Sunday required OT after Coach Gibbons’ side let slip a late lead that nearly cost the side dearly. Up 40-32 to begin the 4th, the Blades fought hard to get themselves back into the mix before eventually forcing OT and falling away. It was a competitive fixture that ultimately didn’t matter to the playoff rank of either side, so credit to both teams for that.

Megan Haines led all scorers for Southwark with 15 and Khaleah Edwards continued her hot form to add 11 more. Efi Basoukou led the charge for Essex with 11 and the Blades can now look forward to a trip to Charnwood to start the post season. Southwark will entertain Anglia Ruskin.