Elite display gives Worthing Thunder one victory – but Newcastle prove too strong

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Worthing Thunder won away to London Elite but lost at home to Newcastle University in a mixed weekend in their NBL Division 1 campaign.

London Elite 73 Worthing Thunder 90

Worthing Thunder started a pivotal weekend in perfect style, overcoming relegation fearing London Elite comfortably.

The turning point came in the third quarter. After Elite gave Thunder a scare in the first half, the away side, only without Zaire Taylor as Jake Eynon returned to play his former club, began to stamp their authority on the match. Ishmael Fontaine set the tone exiting the break, collecting three points from a fouled layup and then connecting on two triples in a row.

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Worthing Thunder and Newcastle University had a great tussle | Picture: Gary RobinsonWorthing Thunder and Newcastle University had a great tussle | Picture: Gary Robinson
Worthing Thunder and Newcastle University had a great tussle | Picture: Gary Robinson

Former Thunder player Ty Nsangu kept the gap manageable in conjunction with Aidan Saunders, Jordan Gray and Charles Acquah-Davis. From there, two more Thunder talisman stepped forward in the form of Captain Hafeez Abdul and Tom Ward, the latter adding his five of the night as Abdul obliterated London’s defence.

Only 19-year-old Lithuanian guard Oskaras Struiga and Kane Daley’s heroics at the free throw line kept things tight. Both only missed one shot out of ten attempts.

From then on, there was no looking back. Both sides traded baskets, with the younger players starring. John Fairbairn, who equalled top scoring for Thunder in the reverse fixture last season, traded baskets with Kane Daley before Oskaras Struiga and Luke Moore both joined in the act. Tola Okiki capped off a professional second half performance to take the spoils.

This marks the second match in a row Thunder captain Hafeez Abdul has breached 30 points, wasting absolutely no time after fellow ex Hemel Storm player Charles Acquah-Davis opened the scoring. Abdul quickly added 12 to a 14-point unanswered run, putting them in control and marking the first purple patch of the evening.

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Worthing Thunder take on Newcastle University | Picture: Gary RobinsonWorthing Thunder take on Newcastle University | Picture: Gary Robinson
Worthing Thunder take on Newcastle University | Picture: Gary Robinson

His 37-points will help lift him up the rankings of average points, with the 28-year-old finding himself 9th at the beginning of Saturday. His scintillating form sets up a mouth-watering prospect for Sunday’s match against Newcastle with Logan Rooney and Justin Hopkins sitting second and third respectively in the season’s average points.

Don’t be fooled by the result; the evening wasn’t all plain sailing. Aiden Saunders connected at the perimeter at the start of the second before joint top scorer Kane Daley finished at the basket to tie the match. The charming story of John Fairbairn assisting his twin Tyler couldn’t stop the hosts taking the advantage, shocking Thunder after such a comfortable start.

Although the deficit grew to 7 points at one stage, Thunder swung the momentum back in their favour, hanging their hopes on Hafeez Abdul and Daniel Johnson-Thompson to take back slender control before half-time.

While picking up a double-double in points and rebounds, Daniel Johnson-Thompson hit 50% in field goals (any shot which isn’t a free throw). He seemed to just about dabble in every job, adding 6 assists to his evening’s work.

It was another night he ruled the rebounds.

Worthing Thunder 89 Newcastle University 106

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Worthing Thunder failed to make it a perfect weekend, losing to Newcastle University for the first time since February 2022 in a match where the score doesn’t tell the story.

After a first half where both teams displayed incredible commitment, the first defining moment of the match came in the third. Newcastle broke ahead as Josh Moore, Temi George, Theo Riley and Matthew Allman all contributed to a great run.

It was against form for the Tyneside team with Logan Rooney contributing little. He scored 45% of Newcastle’s points in the first half.

With just 1:25 left in the third, Thunder managed to slash Newcastle’s 16-point advantage to 9, Joshua Palmer leading the fight with great team Basketball.

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With twin Tyler out, Fairbairn family honour fell to John, impressing on both ends of the floor as he tried, with Ishmael Fontaine, to stop statesman Logan Rooney. The pair managed to subdue him enough, stopping him on multiple occasions.

Despite Tom Ward’s supreme scoring, 6’8” Centre Emmanuel Kanwei proved a pain under the basket. Despite Thunder marshalling the 20-year-old well throughout the evening, the penetrating drives from teammates punished them. Newcastle scored 60-points near the basket.

Momentum boomeranged through the fourth, boiling down to a grandstand finish with Thunder leading by two after Tom ward and Jake Eynon connected at the perimeter.

After Logan Rooney subsequently tied the game, overtime beckoned when Hafeez Abdul’s shot stuck to the rim with fractions of a second left.

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Daniel Johnson-Thompson’s turn around shot punctuated a 7-point individual run by Justin Hopkins, putting the game out of reach with devastating precision in combination with his fellow statesman Logan Rooney.

Hopkins, who averages 21.3 points per game, was the edgier of the Geordie heroes. He delighted in the despair of the 350-strong Thunder crowd, directly eyeing them after a spin pass to Rooney who achieved a double-double in points and rebounds.

Though Thunder captain Hafeez Abdul struggled to match the scoring capability of Rooney and Hopkins, he mixed the thinking man’s role with his trademark tenacity on his way to 19-points.

From the tip, Newcastle doubled up on the 28-year-old, barely giving him a millimetre to breathe. He soaked up the pressure, managing to find the open man as he worked between the numbers on the stats sheet. His 8 rebounds, two short of a double-double, were only matched by Tola Okiki for Thunder.

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The beginning of the evening belonged to fan favourite Ishmael Fontaine as the 34-year-old proved why he is comfortably top of Thunder’s three-point percentage. 9 of his 11 points in the first came from the perimeter as Thunder rocked the home crowd.

His total of 15 exceeded Tom Ward’s total by one, with Ward’s heroics at the other end of the game nearly sealing victory for Thunder.

The 35-year-old, who was two assists and three rebounds short of a triple-double, thrilled like so many times through the years. Considering he has done it all in a Thunder jersey, his competitive spirit is nothing short of breathtaking.

Defeat at the hands of Mark Elderkin’s and former Thunder player Naz Abu-Ramadan’s Newcastle re-establishes Thunder’s fluctuating form.

Thunder welcome Hemel Storm on Saturday the 3rd of February (tip 19:30) for what will be an electric atmosphere, before attempting to settle todays score in the North-East on February 11.