Worthing Thunder began their NBL Division 1 season with an impressive 72-57 win over Leicester Warriors at the Worthing Leisure Centre on Saturday night.
Despite a worrying dip in the fourth quarter, where the visitors got to within 11 points, Thunder were always in control of their league opener with a well balanced scoring attack, complimented by solid defence, led by Aiman Rezk, who pulled down 11 rebounds, swatted away six shots and added eight points, on his way to a second straight Barkers Tarring MVP award.
James Grinham paced Worthing with 16 points, including five three-pointers, going 71 percent from outside. Zaire Taylor and Brendan Okoronkwo both added 14 with the former getting seven rebounds, five assists and the latter dishing out seven assists. There was also an impressive debut from Samson Soulis, who got eight points in limited minutes and the returning Tom Ward, who amassed seven, plus six rebounds and six assists.
Grinham though certainly found his range tonight, saying afterwards that he needed to find his form after last weekend’s games against Reading and Kent.
“Everyone was on me for not shooting enough last week,” Grinham revealed. “So I studied the game tape, and went through a few things and tonight, I gained more confidence with every shot. Having the team-mates around you, and supporting you is a massive booster and right now, I feel like we are nearly there as a team. We’re understanding each other and everyone has a role that they are settling into.”
A statement certainly seconded by Coach D, who starts the new Division 1 campaign with a win and a second straight victory in all competitions.
“I think that was our best performance, we managed to get a few extra guys in and I think that helped reducing the minutes of some of the starters and so we had fresh legs when we were at the start of the quarters,” Coach D explained.
“They are starting to understand their offences, they are starting to understand their roles.”
Martyn Gayle led the Warriors with 13 points.
After missing their first offences, Okoronkwo got Thunder going in transition, finishing a move that started with an impressive block from Rezk off an attempted lay-up attempt from Carl Pearson. The Thunder captain then hit a step back jumper before Grinham stepped up to hit three triples in a row to give the hosts a 13-6 lead.
And Worthing kept up the pressure on the Warriors, who relied heavily on driving to the basket, with little success. Soulis got his first points as a Thunder player, which was part of a 7-0 burst, leading to a convincing 27-11 lead after one.
Leicester started the second very promisingly, thanks to veteran Pearson, but the spell was short-lived as Worthing resumed their dominance with the highlight being a triple from Grinham off a tip pass from Okoronkwo, whilst on the floor. A three-pointer as Rezk handed the hosts a 40-18 lead, in the end settling for a 47-25 cushion at the half.
Following a quiet nine points in the first half, off seven shots, Zaire Taylor opened the third with a long three-pointer, followed by sublime link-up play between Ward, as his behind-the-back pass was completed by Okoronkwo.
As a team, Worthing looked composed and as a team, the offence came to them easier thanks to solid defence. A basket from Okoronkwo handed the hosts a 58-30 lead with 4:52 left in the third. However, towards the end of the period, the Warriors began to claw their way back with an 8-0 run, which was broken with a timely triple from Soulis as Thunder had a comfortable 63-39 advantage heading to the fourth.
But despite the cushion, Coach D was forced to call a timeout with 7:46 left in the fourth as Warriors’ Martyn Gayle got hot from outside, draining three consecutive triples from the corner to narrow the double-digit lead and that was then followed by a three from Pearson as Worthing’s lead was 65-54 and all of a sudden, the fans grew nervous.
But the hosts regrouped as scores from Grinham, Okoronkwo and Taylor restored a comfortable 71-56 lead, which they maintained, en route to the win.