BASKETBALL: Circelli hits season-high score in Essex win

DEFENDING BBL champions Newcastle Eagles hit town on Saturday to meet a Thunder team back at full strength at the Thunderdome. Vital Worthing defensive forward Ville Makalainen will return after a chest cold that took him out of the reckoning on Friday when both teams were in action.

While late free throws sealed Eagles' comeback to defeat Everton Tigers yet again, Thunder were overcoming the absence of Makalainen and avenging their unexpected October home defeat to Essex Pirates.

Worthing won 88-77 at new venue, Southend Sports and Tennis Centre, with the heartening sign '” the first this season '” of a forward having a big-scoring night in support of leading scorer Reggie Bratton, who is a guard.

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While Bratton bagged 31 points, with back-court colleague Sherrad Prezzie-Blue adding 18, Samuel Cricelli cracked his previous best total with 23 points.

This is good news for Thunder fans. Worthing will not reach the play-offs entirely on their guards' points.

Bratton missing four games with a damaged foot was the signal for other players to improve their scoring weight. Makalainen, since Bratton's first absence, has averaged 18 points a game and the Brighton-based Cricelli 15.

Both are 24-year-olds, Makalainen is 6ft 5in, and Cricelli 6ft 7in '” the same as Janis Ivanovskis, Thunder's Latvian star power forward, who cannot enter any equations about Worthing's Play-offs or BBL Trophy bids unless he returns from back injury next year.

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Thunder therefore need Cricelli to produce this kind of thing and he top-scored with 17 and 22 against Cheshire Jets and Guildford Heat on consecutive nights at the end of October. Already, he is averaging more points than in his three years in the USA at NCAA Division 2 Caldwell College.

Cricelli, the Briton with an Italian father, recalled: "On Friday, I should have had 25 but I missed two free throws at the end. It happens.

But I think we played okay. Everybody was making their shots and there weren't many threes. We were going inside. We had a lot fewer turnovers, even though it could still be less. Defensively, we're still learning.

"But offensively, as we begin to understand more the way coach Dave Titmuss wants us to play, our game is becoming a lot smoother and, the way we play, anybody can come out and score 15 points. We're now five wins, eight losses, and coach is happy we're climbing up the ladder, so to speak.

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"There's a long way to go towards being a solid defensive team, but we're getting there together. I think I'm being aggressive and it's fun playing with Kadiri Richard.

"I'm really enjoying playing with him. I'll cut to the basket and he'll give me the assist. We're both getting rebounds and put-backs. It's great, too, that, defensively, we've got his athletic presence."

It's an exciting prospect of this pairing crashing opposition backboards when they get their dual-act together. Newcastle, player-coached by Fab Flournoy, have not yet met the seven newcomers on this season's Thunder roster, so how the teams match up will be new.

PIRATES 77: Rodrigo 22pts, Adu 20pts, Hundert 12pts,

THUNDER 88: Bratton 31pts, Cricelli 23pts, Prezzie-Blue 18pts.


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