WORTHING Thunder Basketball Club sealed a National League Division 1 play-off position with victory at Newham Neptunes on Saturday.
Thunder finished seventh in the table and will now travel on Saturday to the league’s runners-up, Derby Trailblazers, in the quarter-finals.
While the scoreline suggests a comfortable win at bottom-of-the-table Newham, it was anything but for Worthing as they came up against a scrappy but incredibly hard-working Newham side, who had only five players.
Those five players took the game to Thunder throughout, but the hosts’ predictable demise was complete when they were reduced to four players after a player fouled out with more than three minutes left. That allowed Worthing to go on a 13-0 run to seal the game and a place in the post-season.
Milton Chavis led the way with 28 points and nine rebounds for Thunder, Hank Rivers added 24 points and 16 rebounds, while Louis Allen hit 12 points, all of them three-pointers.
Thunder coach Daniel Hildreth said: “At the end of the day, the win was what we came here for and we did that. I said to the guys that Newham might only have five guys but they will fight and compete until the final buzzer and they did. They are a team that scraps, plays in complete chaos but it works for them and they have beaten some great teams this season.
“I’m glad we have the win that we needed, though, and we will be ready for the play-offs for sure.”
Rivers got Thunder off to the perfect start inside with two easy buckets and as the quarter progressed Worthing continued to spread the ball around with ease which allowed easy shots from deep.
That then gave the visitors breathing space as a three from Allen handed Worthing a 23-13 lead with three minutes of the first period remaining. Despite playing with five players, Newham finished strongly and made the score respectable, but Thunder maintained their lead at 28-22.
Newham, relying solely on isolation plays, found gaps in Thunder’s defence at the start of the second and managed to reduce the gap to 31-26 early in the quarter.
Thunder responded and managed to move 36-26 ahead thanks to a thunderous one-hand slam from Chavis. Neptunes found a way back into the game and a 10-0 run helped them slim the deficit to 42-39, forcing coach Hildreth into a time-out.
Chavis and Selby Hind-Wills guided Thunder through the last minute of the second, which allowed them to keep their noses in front at half-time, 46-41.
In another attempt to claim a double-digit lead, Thunder began the brighter of the two sides in the third and they were rewarded when a three-pointer from Allen, two minutes into the quarter, gave them a 55-44 lead.
Newham chipped away at Thunder’s advantage slowly but surely. The majority of Neptunes’ scoring ended up coming from steals and despite free throws from Hind-Wills to end the quarter, Thunder led only 67-61.
A three-pointer to begin the final quarter made it a one-possession game and the large contingent of Thunder fans were beginning to get a little nervous.
However, seven points from Chavis in a 7-2 run gave the visitors some more breathing room and when Neptunes were reduced to four players, Worthing took full advantage.