Worthing Thunder were made to sweat but secured home-court advantage in the first round of the NBL Division 1 playoffs by beating Manchester Magic 103-95 at the Worthing Leisure Centre on Saturday night.

As a result, Thunder have finished in fourth place in the NBL Division 1 table and will face fifth-placed Team Northumbria in the first round of the playoffs next week.

Zaire Taylor led Thunder in victory with 34 points and 10 assists, with James Grinham draining six triples on his way to 18 points as Thunder were once again without guard Jorge Ebanks.

“It was important for us to get the win tonight and stay at home for next week,” said Grinham afterwards. “Obviously without Jorge, we had to step up and we’re happy with how we played.”

Marquis Mathis added a second straight double-double with 17 points and 16 rebounds with Tom Ward playing all 40 minutes, en route to 13 points.

Stefan Gill hit eight three-pointers as he led Manchester with 34 points.

Thunder raced out to a quick 9-0 lead before the visitors got off the mark with a three-point play from Ryan Lewis. A three from Ward followed by another long-range jumper from Mathis gave Worthing their first double-digit lead at 15-3 and apart from a minor blip half-way through the first, the hosts maintained a comfortable 34-25 lead, where they hit six three-pointers out of ten attempts.

Taylor retained Worthing’s double-digit lead and it was the duo of Grinham and Mathis who preserved the double-digit cushion before Manchester cut the deficit thanks to a 6-0 burst, led by veteran Gill. However, Taylor was able to put more breathing space between his side and Magic as they went into the break, 56-48 to the good.

Lee Goldsborough narrowed the gap to six points to start the third quarter as Magic threatened to close in on Thunder’s lead. Taylor though single-handedly kept Worthing ahead as he scored 13 points in the period to give Thunder a 76-68 advantage heading into the final quarter.

Worthing though were rattled early in the final quarter as a 6-0 start from Thunder made it a two-point game before Mathis ended Manchester’s spell with a basket. The visitors tried to keep in touch but late three-pointers from Grinham settled the game and ensured Worthing would stay at home in the first round of the playoffs.


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