BASKETBALL: Thunder get late victory over Wolves

MORE than 600 people are expected to register Worthing Thunder's latest large home crowd this Saturday when Guildford Heat stoke the next flames of the battle to reach the play-offs.

The fans will be back for more after yet another thrillingly tight Thunder victory that added distance between themselves and their trailing rivals for eighth spot.

Worthing beat Worcester Wolves, 86-84 in the last 24 seconds on Saturday, to build further on their BBL CV of taking matches to the wire and often winning.

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This second victory gives Thunder the mutual series 2-0 over Wolves.

Now they must level it against Guildford, where they lost by seven points in November, more than a month before the arrival of Lithuanian guard Evaldas Zabas from Worcester established Worthing as the play-off opposition most will dread.

In a cliffhanging finish, Zabas' two free throws, four seconds from the end, sank his previous club, after being fouled by Frenchman Harry Disy '“ ironically the sole survivor from the Wolves team destroyed in December by coach comment controversy.

Thunder had trailed most of the match but won the second two quarters of a game of 12 lead changes and eight ties of score. After leading 4-2, they went 12 points down in the second quarter'”albeit 10 fewer than the previous week when they came back to lead Everton '” then lost a four-point lead in the third to start the fourth 59-62 down.

They improvised in defence to freeze American guard Daniel Gilbert on 19 points for the entire second half, with Sherrad Prezzie-Blue and 25th birthday boy Ville Makalainen key figures. And they took increasing control of the Worcester backboard, through Kadiri Richard, Samuel Cricelli and Reggie Bratton. Worthing had 10 more assists than Worcester, had six turnovers less than them, and took 13 more second-chance points from their 11 more rebounds.

As Wolves tired, at 69-70, Zabas replaced the excellent Samuel Cricelli when coach Dave Titmuss, for the first time on the night and with only five minutes left, confronted Worcester with the four-guards-one-forward formation that has brought Thunder much recent success.

It was a tactical masterstroke. Only three-pointers from Roderick Middleton (two) and Modestas Sidlauskas kept Wolves apace when four big Worthing plays for slender leads took them to the cusp of victory from 78-75.

Prezzie-Blue scored on his first cut to the basket all game. Shock No 1. Makalainen, thereto off-colour offensively, out-leapt two opponents to a loose ball, then drove in to score. Shock No 2. Zabas powered in to draw a foul from Devin Smith and made his free throws. Then Bratton rebounded a Prezzie-Blue three-pointer miss, was fouled, netted both penalty shots, and it was 84-81 with 53 seconds left.

Yet Middleton's three-pointer still squared it at 84-all. That gave Thunder the ball and 24 seconds '“ the maximum length of a possession before shooting '“ to win the game. Zabas appeared to have held the ball too long but at 00:04 Disy's foul cost Wolves the game.

Middleton then dramatically dribbled out of play under pressure from Makalainen. After the time-out called to plan the remaining 00:01, Wolves all sat on their bench to watch Kadiri Richard dunk from the inbounds pass. It could not count and Worcester's ex-Thunder assistant coach Chris Mayes later explained this was done in protest at Titmuss, they thought, taking so long in previous timeouts to send his players back out on court.

On victory, Zabas commented: "We keep finding a way to win. Yes, I held the ball too long at the end but I knew I could get past Disy and pass, if I needed, to our shooters Sherrad or Reggie."

Richard, in the previous BBL Team of the Week, had even more magnificent more figures. He remarked: "Everybody played so well. It was a great team effort defensively and offensively. We kept their score below 90 and we scored well on transition (fast break]. Now we've really got to beat Guildford."

Team captain James Brame received an award for 200 Worthing Thunder appearances. He marked it with a notably cool fake move basket.

THUNDER 86: *Bratton 27pts (7-11 in 2s, 3-8 in 3s, 4-4 in frees) 6rb, *Prezzie-Blue 21pts (3-3 5-13 0-0) 3ass, *Richard 10pts (5-8) 9rb 7ass 2blk 4stl, *Cricelli 8pts 12rb 3ass 3stl, *Makalainen 7pts, Zabas 6pts, Ivanovskis 5pts 3rb 2stl, Brame 2pts 1rb, Hildreth 0pts DNP: Mitchell, Marrast. Unkitted: Midgley.

WOLVES 84: *Disy 21pts 2rb, *Gilbert 19pts 7rb, *Middleton 13pts 6rb, Normantas 13pts 4rb 2stl, *Sidlauskas 8pts 3rb, Smith 5pts 3rb, *Knysas 3pts, Stewart 2pts 2rb. DNP: Owen, Tamulynas.

BBL (P W-L Pts): Sheffield 26 22-4 44; Newcastle 27 22-5 44; Glasgow 25 17-8 34; Leicester 26 15-11 30; Milton Keynes 24 14-10 28; Everton 25 14-11 28; Cheshire 26 14-12 28; Worthing 26 13-13 26; Guildford 27 10-17 20; Worcester 24 9-15 18; Plymouth 25 8-17 16; Essex 26 4-22 8; London 23 3-20 6.

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