Derby, Reading and Northumbria all win to keep pace at the top

Leicester Warriors 61 v 98 Derby Trailblazers

With Manchester Magic taking a weekend off from D1M to contest the National Trophy (recap available HERE), there was an opportunity for a number of teams up at the top to make some headway in their respective title challenges. Derby grabbed that opportunity with both hands, recording an emphatic 98-61 win in Leicester on Saturday.

The final score did much to mask what was a relatively even contest for the first 20 minutes of the game. With scores of 23-21 after 1 and 37-36 at the half, both to the visiting Trailblazers, it wasn’t until the 3rd quarter that Coach Shaw’s team began to pull away. With Matt Ward-Hibbert and Chris Taylor both providing a solid scoring threat, Derby were able to establish a double digit lead by the end of the 3rd. Things then got out of hand for the hosts in the last 10 minutes as a 37-17 quarter gave the Trailblazers a lopsided win.

That was a fabulous win for us,” exclaimed Derby’s delighted Head Coach Matt Shaw. “Leicester are always a tricky team to play and when we play each other, it's usually a really close game. However, we produced our best team performance for some weeks, sharing the ball and working well as a team. I was pleased with our teamwork and effort wise I think the guys worked really hard.

Taylor and Ward-Hibbert led the way for Derby, scoring 27 and 25 respectively, whilst Brian Amabilino-Perez added 12. For Leicester, Leome Francis had 13, Rodney Sanders added 10 and Carl Pearson rounded out the scorers on 8. The win helped Derby maintain their foothold on 4th place, whilst defeat for Leicester leaves them precariously close to the relegation battle below them.

Maxwell Morrison rises highest to throw one down for Derby - Alan Mousley/AGM Pics

Westminster Warriors 77 v 95 Reading Rockets

Reading extended their winning run to 14 behind a club best 62 1st half points to easily see off the winless Westminster Warriors. Due to Manchester’s absence from the D1M fixture list for this weekend, the win also sees the Rockets jump into 2nd place in the standings.

The visitors started as they meant to go on, finding success through multiple avenues. Beyond the arc proved to be particularly profitable as the Rockets hit 66% of their 1st quarter attempts from deep. With their lead increasing, so did the confidence within the Reading camp and that allowed youngsters such as Bikram Rana and Paulin Jardim to come to the fore. Rana poured in 3 consecutive threes while Jardim linked up well with Carter, Hooper and Ponder to keep the scoring going.

A half time score of 62-27 bred some complacency in the Rockets as they began to let mistakes creep into their play. That allowed the Warriors to begin to look for ways back into the game, and after a 26-16 3rd to the hosts, Reading realised they’d need to go back up through the gears to see this one out. That task fell to Craig Ponder, who scored 9 points in the final 10 minutes to ensure that an unlikely comeback never materialised despite Westminster taking the 4th 24-17.

Reading enjoyed 22 points from Chris Hooper, as well as 20 from Ali Sbai and 14 from Valerio. Jonathan Johnson led the way for Westminster with 22 points, Manning had 19 and Ashley 16.

Bradford Dragons 73 v 79 Team Northumbria

25 points from Malcolm Smith was enough to give Team Northumbria a tough 79-73 win over Bradford on Saturday night. Despite Rihards Sulcs and Ricky Fetske both passing the 20-point mark, the Dragons couldn’t quite seal the deal against the league leaders.

As Northumbria have found a way to do in recent weeks, they managed to come out on top during a fixture that was close troughout. A 1-point lead for the visitors led to a slender 44-40 lead at the half as both sides battled to gain an advantage. Trying to find a way back into the game, Bradford did manage to narrow the gap to a single basket at 57-55, but Northumbria did just enough in the final 10 minutes to keep their title aspirations on track for another week.

Smith led all scorers with 25, with Blayne Freckleton adding 19 and Siman Stewart dropping 18. Sulcs finished on 24, Fetske had 22 and Marcus Gooding put up 12 in a quiet performance from the talented guard.

Team Northumbria's Malcolm Smith (white kit) was once again at his best as the league leaders grabbed another W - Alex Daniel Photography

Loughborough Student Riders 86 v 64 Worthing Thunder

Worthing got their weekend off to a bad start, dropping behind early on the road against the Riders before eventually limping to a 22-point defeat, 86-64.

Travelling up the country with a number of players unavailable due to injury, including Brendan Okoronkwo, the Thunder fell behind 7-0 before they were able to put their 1st points on the board. A further 12-2 run from the hosts meant a 19-9 score line to the Riders after 1. A positive start to the 2nd was needed and scores from Lyonell Gaines and Luke Attfield were useful but ultimately the Riders kept their double digit lead intact before adding to it with contributions from Josh Ward-Hibbert and Lucien Christofis.

Early in the 3rd the score ticked up to 50-19 and a tired and depleted Thunder roster struggled to mount a comeback. Solid defence from the hosts led to turnovers and fast break opportunities and by the end of the quarter it was a 70-39 ball game. An 8-2 run in the final frame allowed the Thunder some respectability late, but it was never a contest down the stretch

Credit to Loughborough they came out and put it on us from the get go, we knew the press was coming and how to counter it but unfortunately we got caught up rushing shots and were too static which led to a number of fast breaks for the hosts,” Coach Hildreth explained afterwards.

29 points from Josh Ward-Hibbert was a big contribution for the hosts, with Levi Noel adding 11 and Pinnock 10. A 32 point, 12 rebound double-double from Lyonell Gaines was a good individual effort despite the result for Worthing, with Tom Ward adding 11 and youngster Hosana Kitenge scoring 9.

Lancashire Spinners 73 v 65 Worthing Thunder

The weekend went from bad to worse for the Thunder as they dropped a 2nd game in as many days, this time a huge battle at the bottom, as they let slip a 14-point lead to lose 73-65.

The game started off brightly for Worthing as a 19-15 1st quarter deficit was quickly overturned after a 15-0 run pulled the score to 38-28 in their favour by the half. A fast start saw Worthing forge ahead in the 3rd but it was all downhill after that. With Mark Rangeley a consistent threat and David Ulph finding success inside and on the boards, the Spinners led 51-45 after 3. A quick run by the hosts pushed their advantage up to 11 but the Thunder worked hard to get that down to just 5 with 3 minutes left. That was a close as things would get though as Lancashire sealed the win, and with it claimed 2 vital points in their quest for D1M survivial.

By the final buzzer, Coach Hildreth was left to rue what might have been after his undermanned roster hit the wall during a tough weekend, “We had a decent start and were able to assess how we were going get our opportunities and a half-time lead gave us the momentum,” Hildreth explained. “Fatigue started to set in and we just struggled to put the ball in the hoop.

Mark Rangeley led the way for the Spinners to finish on 18, Jack Hudson had 13 and David Ulph added a 12 point, 13 rebound double-double. A 2nd double-double in as many days for Lyonell Gaines wasn’t enough as his 24 point, 11 rebound performance was in vain. Jack Sunderland had 13 and Josh Brown 12 on an afternoon when Brendan Okoronkwo was sorely missed.

Hemel Storm 92 v 61 London Lituanica

Though somewhat hard to believe, the final moments of Hemel’s 92-61 victory were filled with all the tension and excitement of a 1-point contest. With both teams close in the D1M standings, the head-to-head tiebreaker between these sides could be as good as an extra point come the end of the regular season. With Lituanica winning the 1st meeting between the 2 teams by 30, the Storm knew they needed to better that number to secure the tiebreaker.

Long before the excitement of the game’s conclusion, the 1st quarter was a scrappy affair with neither side able to really hit their stride. Still, fast break points from Wayne Yeboah helped the influential Storm man to grab 9 points in the quarter and with contributions from the ever impressive Nik Rhodes, the hosts led 14-9 after 1. The introduction of Jack Burnell was a turning point for the Storm in the 2nd as he connected on three straight triples to ease the lead up to 38-27 at the half.

With a depleted Lituanica side beginning to tire in the 2nd half, Hemel turned to a full court press. Forcing turnovers from the visitors, the lead continued to grow and before long put the result beyond doubt. From there, Hemel’s attention turned to their margin of victory. With the lead flirting near the 30-point mark, it wasn’t until back-up forward Jamie Rodwell hit from the foul line with 40 seconds to go that there was any room for error from the hosts. At 92-59, Lituanica made things nervous for the home crowd once again as Trepocka scored from the paint to reduce the lead to 31. Despite a look of their own, Khapri Alston’s effort for the Storm clanged off the iron, but a last gasp jumper from the visitors also missed, leaving Hemel with a win, 8th place in the table and the tie breaker over the London side.

With seven fixtures left on the year, Storm Head Coach David Allin knows his team must keep on winning to qualify for post season play: “Other teams’ results and of course our own performances will affect whether or not we make it into the post season. In the fourth quarter I wanted to get different players on the court but I also wanted to win by 31 or more.  It was the icing on the cake to be able to do both.

Tom Adorian and Khapri Alston both finished on 13 for Hemel, with Wayne Yeboah adding 16 more. Nik Rhodes was able to record an impressive double-double with 16 points and 11 assists. For the short-handed Lituanica, Danusis had 19, Trepocka 18 and Neverauskas 10.

Nik Rhodes' double-double enabled Hemel to grab the head-to-head over Lituanica this weekend - Linda Titmuss

Westminster Warriors 74 v 77 Team Solent Kestrels

Westminster came within seconds of securing their 1st win of the season before they cruelly fell away late against Solent. With their lead intact deep into the 4th, a 77-74 loss will be tough to take for the Warriors.

As has been the case on multiple occasions this season, the hosts were able to stick with their opponents for long stretches before ultimately dropping back. Not the case here though, the Warriors used a strong 3rd quarter showing to get themselves within touching distance of a potential victory. Trailing 53-50 with 10 minutes to go, the Warriors pushed in front throughout the 4th quarter before a dogged Kestrels team used the quality of Kirkman and Mathis to close to gap and eventually push their noses in front for the W, breaking Westminster hearts in the process.