Thunder lose play-off final to Reading

Bud Johnston
Bud Johnston

WORTHING Thunder Basketball Club’s fairytale end to the season fell short at the final hurdle when they lost 88-57 to Reading Rockets in the EBL Division 1 play-off final at The Amaechi Centre in Manchester.

Thunder had reached the final with a 54-53 win over Team Northumbria on Saturday - their 12th successive win - when they were awarded the winnning basket on the goaltend rule after the final buzzer had gone, while league champions Rockets had overcome Essex Leopards 75-70 after over-time.

Worthing had won their last 10 league games of the season to reach the play-offs and then won at Bristol Academy Flyers, who finished second to reach the Final Fours.

Thunder got the first points of the final through a Kadiri Richard basket but Reading responded superbly to go on a 16-0 run.

Robbie Parker and Luke Nelson, a former Thunder junior, both sank three-pointers during the run as Reading led 16-2 halfway through the first stanza.

Thunder fought back in the remainder of the quarter and a three-pointer from Bud Johnston closed the gap to 19-12 with 1min 41sec left of the period and Reading led 20-12 at the end of the first quarter.

Thunder had several looks from three-point range during the first 10 minutes but shots from Dominic Baker, twice, Johnston, twice, Kadiri Richard and Tomas Seduikis all bounced out.

Thunder started the second stanza with a three-point Brendan Okoronkwo attempt bouncing out and Reading scored the first five points of the period to move 25-12 ahead.

Joe Carter sank four quick points to cut the deficit but Parker’s basket put Rockets up 27-16 midway through the quarter.

Five quick points from Nelson - two free throws and a three-pointer - took Reading 15 points ahead, at 33-18, with 2-47 left of the second quarter and Rockets led 37-24 at half-time as Worthing struggled offensively in the first half, with just one of their 11 three-point attempts connecting, compared to four of Rockets’ six.

The sides traded baskets at the start of the second half, before a nine-point Rockets run took them 48-29 ahead with 6-03 left of the third quarter.

Reading extended the run to 13 points as their lead reached 23 points at 52-29 with four minutes to go in the period, before Okoronkwo sank a three-pointer to stop the run.

Reading finished the period strongly, though, and a 13-point run took them 32 points ahead at 69-37, before a basket from Carter at the end of the stanza made the score 69-39 at the end of the third quarter.

Rockets were in no mood to ease off in the final quarter and their lead reached 35 points three times during the period.

Thunder gave run-outs to junior players Rhys Francis, Julian Stanley and Nick Corbin in the final few minutes as Reading ran out comfortable winners.

Lewis Champion top-scored with 25 points for Reading, while Nelson sank 21.

Hank Rivers and Johnston both scored nine points for Worthing.