Thunder clinch home play-off tie

Hank Rivers in action against Leicester.
Hank Rivers in action against Leicester.

WORTHING Thunder Basketball Club sealed home advantage in the EBL play-offs with an impressive 103-78 win at home to Leicester Warriors on Saturday (March 31).

Thunder will play at home in the quarter-finals on April 14 as they bid to reach the final fours weekend in Manchester on April 28 and 29.

Worthing captain James Brame said: “It’s a real boost to have the first round at home. Hopefully, we’ll be able to move into the final four when it’s win the championship or bust. We’re not bothered who we come up against as to win the championship, you have to beat the best.”

Thunder will finish third in the table if they win on Sunday at London Leopards, who were crowned champions at the weekend, or if Derby fail to beat Westminster on Saturday.

Brame believes the game at Leopards is crucial heading into the play-offs and said: “I believe we’re the best two teams in the league and it’s a massive momentum game.

“We’re looking strong and are looking forward to the game as we want to try to finish third.

“We wanted to send out a message to the rest of the league with the win against Leicester, too. We were fourth heading into the game and they were fifth and we beat them by 25 points.”

Things certainly have not been boring for Thunder supporters this season as they are the top scorers in the league with 1,983 points, while they have also had the most points scored against them with 1,913.

The game was thrilling throughout on Saturday as the teams traded baskets throughout the first half, until Thunder took control after half-time.

Leicester enjoyed their largest lead after just four minutes when they were 16-9 ahead but Thunder fought back to trail just 23-20 at the end of the first stanza, after Brame’s late three-point attempt bounced out.

The second quarter was all about Thunder guard Bud Johnston as he spectacularly hit form, with three three-pointers and 17 points during the period. Johnston also set Courtney Small up for a spectacular slam dunk as Thunder moved into a 53-50 lead at half-time.

Thunder quickly moved into a 59-52 lead after the break but a six-point run brought Leicester to within a point. That was as good as it got for the visitors, though, as a 16-point Thunder run – including eight successive points from Small – took the game away from them.

Thunder finished the quarter 78-62 ahead and then produced some real exhibition play in the final period, with slam dunks from Hank Rivers and Small getting the Thunder fans on their feet. Small took Thunder up to the 100-point mark for the third successive game with just under two minutes remaining as they wrapped up a convincing win – their largest home victory of the season.

Marcus Tullis, who was named Thunder’s supporters’ club MVP, topped the scoring with 28 points and also had 15 rebounds and seven assists.

Johnston sank 23 points, with five three-pointers from 11 attempts and also eight assists, while Rivers, who was the coaches’ player of the season and supporters’ club MVP runner-up, had 22 points and eight rebounds, while Small sank 22 points and had seven assists.

Eugene Pettaway led Leicester’s scoring with 22 points.

Brame said: “We changed the defence up in the third and fourth quarters. We went big at the back with Francesco Amato, Hank and Marcus, while we still had the quickness of Bud and Courtney to get up and down.

“We played some great stuff and the third and fourth quarters were some of the best basketball we’ve played this season and we’ve got to keep playing like that, now.”