Heartbreak! Thunder miss Lynch final in Solent thriller
Worthing Thunder missed out on a place in a final - but put up such a brave effort to try to save their L Lynch Trophy dream.
Thunder travelled along the south coast on Sunday as big underdogs against Solent Kestrels, who had not lost to a fellow NBL side in 53 games.
An expected comfortable home victory turned in to a mammoth match-up that few could have expected.
At the final buzzer the relief within the Solent ranks was clear to see and Thunder's players fought hard to hold back the tears in defeat. It had been a magnificent game that all concerned could be proud to have been involved in.
Thunder started the game the quickest as Max Richardson fired in two treys in the first minutes. An early lead of 10 points was only held for a short time as Solent hit back quickly but Thunder had a game plan and it was working.
Starving the easy looks for Solent's main men (Travis Charles and Ian Smith).meant Solent were dependent on long hopeful shots which weren't dropping. At the first break Thunder led by three points (24-21) with their fans wondering if it would last.
The second period continued the same way with Thunder's defence playing some tough basketball.In a low-scoring quarter. Howard Crawford and Zaire Taylor were monsters in defence for Thunder.
Only 25 points hit the net with Thunder shading it 13-12 - so it was the visitors from West Sussex who held a four-point lead as the half-time break arrived.
The third period was even closer as the teams shared the game 24-24. Thunder played some tremendous basketball both in offence and defence as Taylor,Richardson and Ward sparkled.
Worryingly the foul count was going against the Thunder and Solent were going to the line more frequently as the game progressed. A final count of 20 points from 23 attempts for Solent was telling a story. As the period ended it was still a four-point gap - 61-57 to the Thunder.
The final quarter was end to end stuff as the tension mounted. Thunder defended defiantly as Solent built the pressure up. Those fouls were beginning to hurt as the influential Richardson fouled out and left the game with a couple for minutes remaining.
That left Thunder slightly lacking on the offensive front and the pressure was beginning to hurt. With 45 seconds remaining on the clock the score was 80-80 and Thunder had the ball heading towards the Solent half of the court - uncharacteristically Taylor stepped out of court for a turnover.
Solent's coach called a time-out to discuss things and after the restart, 30 seconds of defence by Thunder saw the clock drop to 15 seconds - overtime looked a probability.
The final play of the game commenced with eight seconds remaining as the ball found Solent's Andre Arrissol who drove to the basket and a hopeful shot found it way into the hoop as the buzzer sounded for the end of the game.
Heartbreak for Thunder and joy for Solent - it can be a cruel game.
Thunder were defeated 82-80 on the last shot after 40 minutes against a team who had won by 20-plus points in every other game this season.
Both sides made this game the classic it was but Thunder were magnificent - all the team gave their all but a special mention goes to Taylor, who not only scored 10 points and dished out 12 assists but also pulled down seven rebounds.
Back to league action on Saturday, Thunder travel to West London for a game against Thames Valley Cavaliers (who have qualified for the L Lynch Trophy final). Things don't get any easier...
Thunder scorers: Max Richardson 23 points 2 rebounds 1 block; Howard Crawford 16 points 7 rebounds 1 assist 1 steal; Jack Sunderland 11 points 5 rebounds 5 assists 3 steals; Tom Ward 11 points 8 rebounds 9 assists 1 steal; Zaire Taylor 10 points 7 rebounds 12 assists 3 steals 1 block; Dom Ives 5 points 1 rebound; Ish Fontaine 4 points 2 rebounds 2 assists.