National Trophy relief for Thunder

WORTHING Thunder Basketball Club coach Gary Smith is relieved to still be in this season’s National Trophy.

After a 79-73 defeat at Leeds Carnegie on Sunday, Thunder, who finished third in their group, thought it could be the end of their competition as it was unclear if the top two or top four would progress from each group.

However, on Monday afternoon, the EBL announced that the top four in each group would go through into quarter-finals, with the top two having home advantage, and Smith said: “Someone’s looking down on us and we’re relieved to still be in the competition.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

“We thought we were out, so this is a second chance for us and we hope to make the most of it.

“I don’t know why the format has been changed but we’ve got no complaints whatsoever.

“It looks as though we’ll be away to either Derby or Reading and whoever we play in the quarter-finals, we’ve got to make sure we’re focused, as we have to be for each and every game this season.”

Thunder had a good record in the Trophy, before joining the BBL for the 2008-09 season. From the 2001-02 campaign, Thunder won the trophy once and reached the final in five of the other six seasons, so Smith was targeting two wins at the weekend.

Things started well with a 105-98 win at home to Tees Valley Mohawks in a tough encounter on Saturday, before the defeat at Leeds the following day, which Smith said was a wake-up call for his side.

He said: “It’s a wake-up call for us and it’s our second wake-up call in eight games this season.

“Our team has got the talent, we showed what we can do against Leicester last week, but we’re inconsistent.

“If we play to a consistent level, we’ll win more games then we will lose. But when we lose a game, we’ve got to learn from it. If we’re trying to win the EBL league title, then we can’t lose more than three games.”

Marcus Tullis shone in Saturday’s win with 38 points and 14 rebounds, while Courtney Small sank 22 points, Liam Mitchell 15 and Chris Talley 14.

Thunder led 29-22 at the end of the first quarter and remained in the lead at half-time, 42-39. In a fast-paced third quarter, Tees Valley made life difficult for Thunder amd four three-pointers in a row from Will Spragg took them 56-54 ahead.

Worthing weathered the storm, though, and moved into the final stanza with a 77-75 advantage.

Thunder were too strong for Tees Valley in the final quarter and eased further ahead, with a bucket from Small bringing up the 100 points to the delight of the 350-strong crowd at Worthing Leisure Centre.

Tees Valley nailed 15 of 35 three-point attempts as David Glavin led their scoring with 28 points and Smith said: “It was a gruelling game but a good spectacle for the crowd.

“Leeds was then a tough game on Sunday. We had chances to win the game, but we just didn’t capitalise when we should have done.”

At Leeds, Talley led all scorers with 19 points, with Small hitting 12. Tullis, who had starred the night before, was held to just nine points.

Thunder travel to Bradford Dragons for their first league game of the season on Saturday (6.15pm), before they travel to Bristol Academy Flyers in the third round of the National Cup on Sunday (5pm).