Thunder sunk by Bristol but Smith praises defensive display

WORTHING Thunder Basketball Club coach Gary Smith praised his side’s defensive display and is confident that wins are not far away after they suffered their second defeat of the EBL season on Sunday.

After a dismal previous weekend, where they opened their league campaign with defeat at Bradford Dragons and then crashed out of the National Cup at Bristol Academy Flyers, Thunder hosted Bristol, this time in the league, but failed to extract revenge as the visitors snatched a late 69-67 victory.

Thunder went into the weekend, having announced on Friday, the return of American forward Hank Rivers, but despite now having played two and lost two in the league, Smith is looking towards the positives.

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He said: “It was disappointing in regards to the fact we lost, but the way we played was much better. One or two lapses let us down in the end, but what I was interested in was our defensive display which was great, and we were in the game because of it.

“We kept the defensive intensity up pretty much all the way through – they then made their run late on and that’s what happens, we were in it until the end and a late shot won it for them.

“It was a good performance, don’t get me wrong, it can always be better, and if we hadn’t turned the ball over so much it would have meant more possession for us at the offensive end.

“There were a few unforced errors which come from bad judgement and bad passes, things like that. They came back to haunt us, but the main positive was the way we played on the defensive end.

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“It can only get better and as long as we keep playing like that defensively, the offence will come, I have no doubt about that.”

In an action-packed game, Thunder’s Courtney Small had tied the match at 67-67 with 41 seconds remaining, but Bristol’s Enrique Garcia gave the visitors the lead with 20 seconds left and, although Marcus Tullis had a chance to give Thunder the win, his three-point shot hit the rim.

Tullis led the scores for Thunder with 19 points and nine rebounds. Small and James Brame both hit 11 points, while Garcia led Bristol with 16 points, assisted by Davis Bowne’s 13 points and 15 rebounds.

Thunder led 15-11 at the end of a scrappy first quarter, but a Flyers fight back saw them edge ahead by a point, 31-30, at the half-time buzzer.

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Thunder put in a fine spell in the third quarter as Brame and Tullis led the way to put them into a double-digit lead at 43-33, but again the visitors fought back to peg Worthing back to just a two-point lead going into the final quarter, 53-51. It was a tight final period, but Bristol snatched it late on, despite Tullis almost grabbing victory.

Rivers made his return to Thunder having played in Germany, El Salvador, America, Chile and for BBL side Birmingham Panthers since his previous spell at the club in the 2006-07 season.

Smith said: “I brought him back in as we needed that extra body on the inside, and he was that.

“My guards are playing pretty well and that is echoed throughout the team, but we need to find a little more balance.”

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Rivers said: “I feel real good being back in Worthing. Last time I was here, it was a little rough but I’m back now. I’ve grown up as a player, been different places and experienced different types of basketball, so I’m here and ready to make a difference to the team.”

Thunder now face a tricky match against leaders Derby Trailblazers, who have won both of their league matches, on Sunday. The game takes place at Worthing Leisure Centre, with a 5pm tip-off.

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