AS THOUGH from a sudden volley from William The Conqueror's archers, Worthing fans saw their kings slain on Saturday '” just as they had dared to start thinking of possible League Championship success after all.

Memories of victories over rivals Reading and Manchester '” plus the sound of Manchester voices afterwards rating Thunder the strongest-looking contenders '” indeed, also of Sheffield's National Cup Final upset subsequently at Reading's hands, were cruelly erased in the opening 10 minutes.

Stunned fans among one of Thunder's best crowds this season, 450, were looking for scapegoats to blame but I would not do that. Maybe Pat Bates should have been given more court time than seven minutes by coach Gary Smith but that is at least something Thunder have in reserve next time.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Sheffield showed that the league title should be a breeze for them. They are a class above, and not surprisingly. Their method and experience is all vintage Sheffield Sharks of the late 1990s.

From Chris Finch's BBL championship and European roster in the Arrows line up are guard-forward Michael Payne (England), forward Todd Cauthorn (USA now British), and the British guard-forward-centre-playcaller-coach-tactician who punches inches way above his absurd 6ft 1in, Garnet Gayle.

The trademark Sharks teethmarks were all over the game. Steely physical defence, long offences with rapid ball movement ripping apart any defence at this one-below level and this time racking up 21 assists. They get the ball, they move it, the open man is inevitable and he is almost invariably a three-point shooter.

Around the perimeter, longbows pulled, Arrows had Cauthorn and Payne, Adrian Anderson, Danny Richards, Sammit Nuriyev off the bench . . . oh, and likely league MVP, 6ft 1in point-guard Ryan Patten, from Finch's Cleveland Ohio, 26, but in his rookie season after selling energy drink cans for two years.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It was all over by the first quarter-break, possibly even after the first 10 points '” all in Thunder's net. Worthing were nil for two minutes, scored twice, then Sharks shattered them 18-0 to lead 28-5. The wreckage of 32-15 contained six Arrows three-pointers.

What could Thunder do? Okolie Ugbana crashed the Arrows board almost singlehandedly at times, Gaylon Moore was fiercely shackled, the rest were in early foul trouble with the referees calling eventually 50 fouls.

More of the same awaited in the second quarter, albeit only 30-22: three more treys, 67-37 at half-time, 11 threes from 20 attempts equalled 55% for the half.

Garnet Gayle, barking instructions at his men like a sargeant major, cancelled the half-time dressing-room lecture and the team lolled around their courtside chairs during the interval.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Worst for Thunder was a 44-point deficit at 85-39. Best was their escape with a 27-point thrashing, two Sheffield men fouled out to their none, and they won the rebounding 54-41.

Patten with a career-high and division-high 45 points, admitted: "We jumped out of the gates early and that was our best performance this season.

"Worthing are a great team and I think they'll beat London United in the Trophy semi-final. We're already in the final because Worcester Wolves have scratched from our semi '” I've no idea why '” but if we play Worthing in the final they'll be mad at us about tonight.

"Garnet's a great coach: He's 40! He wears his heart on his sleeve and he's passionate about the game. You love to play for people like that and he's a great person to play for."

And Thunder? What was there left to say? Was that lightning? Or something that strikes twice?