Reading Rockets and Team Northumbria enjoyed their respective weekend exploits as both teams came away with double victories to keep things tight at the top of the Division One table.
Northumbria chalked up their two wins on the road as they came away from Worthing Thunder with a 78-64 win on Saturday prior to prevailing 81-74 at Leicester Warriors 24 hours later.
The Rockets also registered an away-day success – 88-81 at Team Solent Kestrels – on Saturday before becoming the only D1 outfit to breach three-digit territory last weekend with a 108-85 triumph over Bradford Dragons at home the following day.
Reading overturned a 20-18 deficit at the end of the first quarter against Solent to lead by five points (44-39) at half-time.
This game was then tied at 53-53, 61-61 and 63-63 in the third quarter before two points from Craig Ponder ensured the Rockets led 65-63 heading into the final quarter.
Some inspired play then saw Reading surge out to a 15-point lead and, although Solent rallied late on to reduce the arrears, the visitors still eased to their 12th win on the spin with a comfortable seven-point cushion.
Danny Carter and Chris Hooper scored 29 and 23 points respectively for Reading Rockets, while Ponder contributed 19 – 11 of which came in that decisive push in the fourth quarter.
Carter (24 points, 10 assists & seven rebounds), Hooper (23 points & 16 rebounds) and Ponder (23 points, nine assists and five rebounds) continued their fine form the very next day as Reading notched their highest score of the season so far (108) to blow away Bradford Dragons by 23.
This result avenged the last league loss for the Rockets at the hands of the Dragons way back on Sunday, November 6th and stretched their relentless winning streak to 13.
Meanwhile, Derby Trailblazers held off a resurgent fightback from an Essex Leopards outfit shorn of three key players through injury & work commitments to post another two points on the league ladder courtesy of a 74-61 scoreline at Harlow Leisurezone on Saturday.
“Right from the jump ball, we looked a different team from recent weeks,” said the Trailblazers’ assistant coach Paul Bowen.
“The players’ palpable desire to win was clear to see. We moved the ball better and the spread of scoring showed a better team feel.
“Essex fought hard late in the third quarter and throughout the fourth, but our guys showed true warrior spirit and we wore our hearts on our sleeves. The travelling fans must have really enjoyed that display today.”
Four players – Matt Ward-Hibbert (22 points), Brian Amabilino Perez (13), Max Morrison and Oli Stanley (both 10) – finished with double figures for Derby compared to two for the Leopards – Darryl Bethune (28) and Justin Hitchman (pictured above - 10).
Indeed, the Trailblazers lived up to their very name as they led from the opening tip to the final buzzer in completing a league double over Essex, who may now get sucked into a relegation scrap with their play-off aspirations progressively fading over time.
Elsewhere, Hemel Storm pipped Leicester Warriors by four points (83-79), whereas Loughborough Student Riders and Manchester Magic enjoyed more convincing margins of victory over Lancashire Spinners (14 - 77-63) and London Lithuanica (13 - 74-61) respectively.
Hemel’s experienced captain Walid Mumuni (pictured below) sank two free-throws in the final seconds to seal a crucial win that moves Storm up to ninth in the table, just one spot away from qualification for the end-of-season National Championship play-offs with eight games left to play.
Hemel head coach David Allin commented: “This was a really big result for us. It puts us ahead of Leicester in the table and moves us a little closer to the play-off spots.
“We have to improve our control when we get ourselves in a winning position and not let teams back into games.
“However, overall, our confidence is growing and our form is improving. Many of the things we’ve been working on in practice are coming together in matches.”