Thunder take the Reading showdown
READING ROCKETS were left behind in the race for the English Basketball League title when champions Worthing Thunder made their penultimate move towards locking up back-to-back titles.
Thunder beat Rockets 100-84 at the Leisure Centre on Sunday in a must-win game for both teams. A Rockets victory would have sent them towards the finishing line ahead of Thunder and with the easier run-in. But Thunder's win and its margin left Rockets out of it unless Thunder fail to win two of their last four matches, one of which must be the defeat of Manchester Magic on March 24.
They need to defeat Manchester to cover any possible slip-up against Solent Stars a day later. Both these games are at Worthing, in a friendly climax of their fixture list.
The depth of Thunder's line-up gradually took care of business on Sunday and their pressure on the ball forced Rockets to fracture and falter in the crucial third quarter. James Brame, Daniel Hildreth, Okolie Ugbana and, again, Dan Midgley, impacted off the bench and the Herald's man of the match, Marcus Avant, revealed he is the full three-point monty with several shots out of the blue.
These shocked Reading, and they finally crumbled and submitted to concede more than the six-point margin to which they needed to restrict Worthing, in order to stay in contention should there be a final tie for the title. Reading have won their head-to-head emphatically over Manchester.
The match was Thunder's most competitive for weeks and, having adjusted to the higher temperature, they did not lead until momentarily, 2 minutes into the second quarter at 31-29, on a Janis Ivanovskis basket following Avant's rebound. It was not until 67-66, Ivanovskis again the scorer, that Thunder led for good.
Ott made a mesmerising drive to the hoop for 71-66, Ryan Williams hit a three-pointer in reply, but Thunder then shut Rockets off the scoreboard for the next 6 minutes. Astride the third quarter break, their 11-0 run amounted to a 15-3 streak that decided the game with 6min 13sec to go.
Midgley brought up the euphoric 100 points with a three-point play on an Avant assist as pro-Worthing pandemonium rose around the arena.
Avant had 30 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. Ott struck 22 points and made four assists, Ivanovskis contributed 11 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Midgley had eight points, two assists and five steals. Brame slotted 10 points and pulled five rebounds.
For Reading, American power-forward Steve Humphreys scored 21 points, Williams and Adam Kelly 16 apiece.
The teams meet again in the National Trophy Final at Newcastle on Sunday and Reading Rockets' coach, the senior and most respected on in the league, Dave Titmuss, said: "This Worthing roster is the best in the league and if they don't win anything it will regarded as a failure."
Three of the four crowns available are up for their grabs.
Get Thursday's Herald for a full report and pictures of the match, and preview of the Trophy Final, including Titmuss' assessment of the league clash. Would his ex-Worthing guard Steve Vear have made any difference? He answers that question.