RYAN PATTON returns to Worthing on Saturday having led Sheffield Sharks to the top of the table — just four games after leaving Thunder this summer, following his and their BBL debut season.
The popular point-guard from Ohio, the BBL Three-Point Shooting Champion, is the team fulcrum Thunder must smother — although Patton says he has only one score to settle in the town of so many friends.
That's a return GB v USA golf singles match against Thunder skipper James Brame, who beat him 3&2 last season.
Thunder coach Dave Titmuss needs victory by holes in a different sport, after Sharks defeated Thunder in Sheffield by 10 points on October 2.
He said: "We must keep down Ryan's scoring and his floor play. He gets the ball to the right people at the right time and we must all stop that happening."
Thunder, meanwhile, have the BBL's leading scorer in new guard-forward from Charlotte, Reggie Bratton. His 123 points in 132 minutes, include eight of 19 three-pointer attempts — a perimeter strike-rate that could confuse him seriously with Patton.
On Sunday, BBL rookies Essex Pirates visit. Walid Mumuni, Dean Williams and Adrian Metcalfe are familiar BBL players on their roster. Titmuss warns: "They've enough talent to beat us. We are small and quick but we absolutely have to control their tempo and their fast break. If we can edge Sheffield, that'll give us a lot of confidence.
"We've a lot of work to do yet before we're firing on all cylinders. We lost at Sheffield when Sam (Cricelli], Pepe (Zafirov] and Kadiri (Richard] each played less than half the match and two fouled out. But Patton scored only 13 points, of which three were a halfway-line buzzer throw-up."
On Sunday, Thunder had lost 90-80 at MK Lions in the BBL, and Titmuss said: "It showed we're not in sync yet, offensively. We missed James Brame. He was sick. We needed size in the back-court and he would have been able to handle EJ Harrison."
Titmuss revealed that the still-improving veteran Harrison, so destructively influential and, the master coach estimates, European League material were he taller, would have been at Worthing now, had Titmuss signed for Thunder two weeks earlier.
In that fortnight, Harrison, who previously lifted EBL crowns with Titmuss at Reading Rockets, had signed for the Lions from Guildford.
Bratton's match-leading 28 points were undecisive because Thunder were playing catch-up after strikes by Harrison in the first quarter and Guy Depuy in the second sent them 14 points down by the interval. Bratton's third-quarter dozen were counteracted and the gap closure in the fourth was too late.
Titmuss said: "MK out-personelled us. I'd be disappointed not to finish top three with that unit. We shot one of 19 three-pointers all game and that came at the very end.
"We shot poorly from the free-throw line, too, but we got back to nine from 20 points down and missed two put-back chances to make it seven.
Pepe had a nightmare. I do feel he's putting too much pressure on himself — but that's something we can deal with."
Kadiri Richard delighted Titmuss, though: "He was magnificent. In terms of what he brings, he's invisible, changing opponents' shots, outsized yet out-rebounding two or three guys in a melee, making big plays when we trapped and stole the ball. I'm thrilled with his value as an import."
Tip-off against Sharks on Saturday is 7pm. Sunday's game with Essex Pirates starts at 5pm, both at Worthing Leisure Centre.
LIONS 90: Morris 20pts, Harrison 16, Holmes 15. THUNDER 80: Bratton 28, Makalainen 19, Richard 14.
On Saturday, the University of Chichester Thunder, who are in partnership with Worthing Thunder, took on Bath & Trowbridge Titans at the Bishop Otter campus in Chichester in English Basketball League Division 4 South.
Bath made their mark on the game early on and led by 21 points in the second quarter. But Chichester cut the deficit to eight points by half-time after solid play from Bud Johnston and Luke Fazackerley.
Chichester continued to chip away at Bath's lead and levelled at 60-60 thanks to Johnston and Pride Nyathi, and Thunder finished the third quarter with a three point lead.
Chichester moved 10 points ahead in the last quarter before Bath hit back but two free throws from Johnston, who finished with a game high 35 points, secured Thunder's maiden national league win at the first attempt.
Assistant coach and player Dan Hills said: "To start with a win at this level is great for the squad.
"Confidence levels will continue to grow from this and, hopefully, this is the start of a successful year. It's great to have a national league team at the university and and I am sure this project will continue to go from strength to strength."
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