BASKETBALL: Thunder beat champions Newcastle

THUNDER served up on a plate to 450 jubilant fans the scalp of the defending BBL League title and Trophy holders on Saturday night.

They defeated Newcastle Eagles for the first time in four BBL attempts and skated in on an 11-0 home run that put them alongside Leicester Riders and Guildford Heat in having put 100 points on the champions.

Bench forward Dan Midgley ended a personal seven-minute cameo containing three-assists by adding two free throws to bring up the century as Thunder wrenched their margin out to a 104-90 victory that halted Newcastle's five-win streak.

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All the Worthing players shared the glory and laid the Newcastle dressing room silent. When player-coach Fab Flournoy emerged from it, last of all, he refuted accusations of complacency.

His tenure has brought, in five years, three league crowns, two runners-up spots, one third place, four play-offs titles and three trophy triumphs.

His team is weaker this season but pride and a confident insularity have now been punctured by Thunder.

Flournoy said: "We didn't underestimate them. They're a bit light on the bench but Worthing are a good team '” just as good as any other '” and coach Titmuss has been getting the best out of them.

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"But it's my fault that our preparation for this match had been less than usual. It's the first time we'd played each other. And, we also arrived only an hour before tip-off."

Thunder demonstrated the greater grit and resourcefulness, and the more their fans disbelieved the sight of a famous victory on the horizon, the more the players showed certainty of making it happen.

Thunder had spent the first two quarters making Eagles' feathers look frayed and their talons tatty, but failing to punish Newcastle's failings.

Chances went begging, including Kadiri Richard and Ryan Marrast drawing blanks at the free-throw line. But the missing execution gradually appeared in the second two quarters. And sometimes spectacularly.

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BBL rookie Sherrad Prezzie-Blue had his best game at this level. Top-scorer and fellow guard Reggie Bratton gave a league Team of The Week numbers performance.

Centre Kadiri Richard led all assisting and shot blocking. Forwards Samuel Cricelli and Petroslav Zafirov made a difference, though fouled out before victory was assured. And defensively, Thunder at last manned the battlements.

If Bratton, fronting the match with 32 points and 10 rebounds, and Ville Makalainen, with a personal season-high 23 points, tore the initiative away from Eagles, Richard produced flashbulb plays that stunned the crowd and all but floored the opposition when the game came to be decided.

His second defiant block seemed to knock the heart out of the resurgent Charles Smith and after Eagles had eaten into a late new seven-point Thunder lead, Richard re-erected it with a massive leap and dunk clean through the key.

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Even so, Eagles got it back to three but then, after Cricelli departed, they failed to convert three possessions and Bratton nonchalantly reached backwards one-handed to rebound and drove back to make it 93-86.

Then at 93-90, Makalainen's key deed was to power in on Lynard Stewart, foul him out and coolly make the free throws despite interruption by a mis-timed Worthing substitution.

Bratton, on the drive again, celebrated that by catching his opponent's knock-up, missing the basket, yet grabbing his own rebound and earning a three-point play.

He missed at the charity stripe but then netted on a fast break before Richard smashed in the final coffin nails by blocking Flournoy's effort, then taking Midgley's pass to dunk unopposed, and finally prancing around the court at the final bell. Quite splendid stuff.

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Thunder coach Dave Titmuss said: "It was really pleasing. An enormous win for the basketball programme here.

"We'd never beaten them before and I think Newcastle found themselves in a game. They always had the extra size but struggled containing us.

"We read it better, and changed defences within possessions because we had to disrupt them. Our guys were looking for each other, and we stopped doing the things we shouldn't be doing.

"It's the first time since the opening game of the season we've had everybody fit.

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"It's about getting in a position to win the game. The keys were we prepared and we showed our mental toughness and desire in the last four minutes."

THUNDER 104: *Bratton 32pts 13-28 in 2s, 1-4 in 3s, 3-5 in frees) 10rb 2blk 2ass 3stl, *Makalainen 23pts (5-8 10-2 10-12) 7rb 4ass 3stl, *Prezzie-Blue 15pts (4-6 2-4 1-1) 3ass, *Richard 12pts (6-9 in 2s) 7rb 6ass 3blk 3stl, Marrast 8pts 5rb, Zafirov 6pts 3rb, *Cricelli 1 6pts 4rb, Midgley 2pts 3ass, Brame 0pts 2stl, Hildreth 0pts. DNP: Mitchell.

EAGLES 90: Smith 19pts 8rb, *Bridge 17pts 9rb, Chapman 15pts 9rb, *Jackson 15pts 6rb 5ass 3stl, *Defoe 9pts 5rb, *Stewart 8pts 5rb, Flournoy 4pts 3stl, *Nielsen 3pts. DNP: Glen, W.Spragg.

BBL (P W L Pts): 1 Sheffield 16 13 3 26, 2 Newcastle 14 10 4 20. 3 M.Keynes 13 9 4 18, 4 Cheshire 12 8 4 16. 5 Leicester 14 8 6 16, 6 Guildford 12 7 5 14, 7 Glasgow 10 6 4 12, 8 Everton 12 6 6 12, 9 Thunder 14 6 8 12, 10 Worcester 11 3 8 6, 11 London Cap 13 3 10 6, 12 Essex12 2 10 4, 13 Airwaves Plymouth Raiders 11 1 10 2.


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