Worthing Thunder were crowned National League Division 1 play-off champions after beating Hemel Storm 67-57 at the Manchester Performance Centre yesterday.
In a physically demanding encounter, Thunder held their nerve in the latter stages of the final quarter when Hemel made their comeback, standing firm to clinch a first title since 2006.
Marquis Mathis claimed play-off MVP honours as he led all scorers with 26 points and six rebounds. Zaire Taylor capped a fine first season for the club with 15 points and eight rebounds, while captain Brendan Okoronkwo finished with a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds to go with six assists.
"We knew coming into this game that they had bigs, so we had to play our up-tempo brand of basketball,” said play-off MVP Mathis.
“For me I like being versatile, playing both inside and outside and I found myself open at times and I felt confident in my ability.
“This win means so much to me, with how I’ve prepared myself throughout this season and seeing it pay-off. I’m grateful and thankful to God."
Michael Darlow led Hemel with 12 points.
Thunder began slowly as Hemel hit the first two scores of the contest before Jorge Ebanks got Thunder off the mark with a strong drive inside. But for the majority of the first period both teams struggled to find any sort of offensive rhythm as Thunder edged to an 18-13 advantage.
Worthing began the second quarter strongly as a lay-up from Mathis gave his side a 27-21 cushion with Hemel struggling to get any sort of looks inside. And it was another score from Mathis that handed Worthing their first double-digit lead at 34-24 with 3:07 remaining.
Storm fought their way back as the period wore on but Thunder, thanks to a late three from Taylor, were still in control up 37-28 at halfway.
Scores from Mathis and Taylor restored Worthing’s double-digit cushion to start the third quarter as Hemel couldn’t get going despite a long two-pointer from Michael Darlow.
Thunder threatened to run away from the Storm as a dunk from Mathis followed by a steal and lay-up from Okoronkwo gave them a 46-30 lead. Another bucket from the latter gave Thunder their biggest lead at 18 points before settling for a 54-42 advantage.
Despite Worthing’s sizeable cushion Hemel clawed their way back into contention as AJ Roberts, who Thunder kept quiet throughout, suddenly caught fire scoring seven points in quick succession to narrow the deficit. But led by MVP Mathis, Worthing held on to win the play-off title.