Thunder seal semi-final spot after seeing off Solent

Worthing Thunder head coach Daniel Hildreth addresses his players last season. Picture: Andre Nichols
Worthing Thunder head coach Daniel Hildreth addresses his players last season. Picture: Andre Nichols

Worthing Thunder secured their spot in this year’s National Trophy semi-final with a comprehensive victory over Solent Kestrels on Saturday.

In his first game on the road as a Thunder player, Lyonell Gaines stole the show with a career-high 43-point haul to help his side see off Solent in front a full house at Fleming Park.

American Gaines ended with a 75 per cent ratio shooting from the field, while also pulling down seven rebounds as a small Solent side simply found him to tricky to contend with.

Gaines was delighted with his team’s efforts and said: “The coach (Daniel Hildreth) was telling me that if my jump shot wasn’t working for me, then be aggressive and take it to the hoop as they are a smaller team and that’s what I did.

“While I’ve been here, I’ve had more confidence with my ball handling and I’ve been working on my body so I knew I could get to the hoop easily and score.”

With this latest success, Thunder have made it two wins from as many matches in the National Trophy securing a semi-final berth with the season barely a fortnight old.

Head coach Hildreth has been impressed with Thunder’s start and said: “I’m happy for the guys as the team cohesion, chemistry and how we have played, not just in our opening two games, but in practice as well has been fantastic. This victory was further proof of that.

“The team passed the ball well, made the right decisions on the offence and defensively were smart.”

Tom Ward amassed 12 points, while Josh Brown added eight as Thunder were 51 per cent (37 from 72) shooting from the field.

It didn’t take long for Thunder to get on the board as Brown cut inside for the easy basket and throughout the first quarter, the visitors passed the ball around and controlled the tempo of the game to stay in control.

Despite their struggles on the defensive end, Solent started to find their rhythm offensively and back-to-back buckets from Caylin Raftopoulos gave them a brief 14-12 lead, forcing coach Hildreth to call a timeout. But Worthing, through Gaines reclaimed their lead and kept it after the first quarter, as they took a 22-18 advantage.

The consistency of Thunder’s team offence was on full show in the second as an 8-0 run gave them their first double-digit lead with three minutes of the period played and with 15 points in the second scored alone by Gaines, the visitors soared to 43-34 lead at the half.

Thunder continued to control proceedings in the second half as they took advantage of two rare flopping technical shots to boost their double-digit lead. A dunk by Brendan Okoronkwo off an intercepted pass put the visitors 55-41 to the good.

Despite a strong finish by the Kestrels to end the third quarter, Worthing were still firmly in the ascendancy, leading 65-50, with Thunder pushing onto seal a semi-final spot.

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