Reading Rockets shot down as Worthing Thunder edge thriller

Worthing Thunder overcame what head coach Zaire Taylor called their “Achilles heel” of closing out games, ending a four-game losing streak in a 75-77 bare knuckle fight against Reading Rockets.
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The decisive fourth quarter saw them limit their hosts to just 11-points. Hafeez Abdul once again led Thunder with 26-points, followed by Daniel Johnson-Thompson with 12 and Tom Ward with 10.

Reflecting on a brilliant evening, Ishmael Fontaine said, “We’ve been establishing a defensive mentality all season and we saw a cohesive effort to be organised and accountable. We were singing from the same hymn sheet.”

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He advocated for calm though: “I don’t use single games to draw conclusions. Every team we play are different; mentality is important.”

Worthing Thunder in recent action against Hemel Storm | Picture: Gary RobinsonWorthing Thunder in recent action against Hemel Storm | Picture: Gary Robinson
Worthing Thunder in recent action against Hemel Storm | Picture: Gary Robinson

While Thunder arrived in the doldrums of four straight defeats, their hosts had only one loss in their last four. They found themselves in despairingly familiar territory when Jermiah Jenkins converted his own steal to put Rockets ahead by 7-points early in the fourth.

Luke Moore typified that, producing a play for a tape when he finished a long two after blocking Zack Powell, all thanks to Fontaine’s surgical pass, using an angle no-one but him saw.

Captain Abdul paid the price which accompanies being second top average points scorer. He took 9 fouls throughout the evening, more than double anyone else. He responded when he backed Elijah Maynard to the basket to put Thunder clear by four-points; his triumphant battle cry showed the meaning of victory.

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Thunder operates on a license to thrill, the game boiled down to another grandstand finish. With the pressure cooker simmering, Jenkins missed his three free-throws which could’ve tied the game. He made one soon after, but his face was a picture of desolation as he deliberately missed his final to try to get another shot.

Johnson-Thompson emphatically blocked Powell for victory, the visitors’ first since the trip to Newcastle on February 11.

Thunder’s dogged defensive stall was set out from the first play, Johnson-Thompson captured possession from his opposite number, Christian Alexander, as both teams counter punched over tiny margins.

Alexander, who finished on 12-points, dusted himself down quickly, orchestrating the positives of Reading’s chess like offence.

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The first belonged to Abdul though. Despite the work of Maynard, who hit a double-double in points and rebounds, the 28-year-old reigned supreme. Before 7-minutes had been uttered in the match, he’d already exceeded the best of any Reading individual effort for the evening (14 for Maynard and Reis Pinnock), with a nasty collision in the heat of battle only slowing him in the second.

With the match crucial for Reading’s push for a home opening tie in the playoffs, an agitation belied their play. It stung them – sharp shooting Australian, Mitch Clarke, and successful NBL staple, Lewis Champion, both received technical fouls for arguing refereeing decisions.

Thunder aim to record consecutive victories for the first time this season against City of Birmingham Rockets, before drawing the curtain on the season the week after with a home match against Nottingham Hoods on April 6 and a trip to Loughborough on April 7.

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