Worthing Thunder advanced to the semi-finals of the NBL Division 1 playoffs thanks to a 98-89 win over Team Northumbria at the Worthing Leisure Centre on Saturday night.

Thunder will now travel to Loughborough Student Riders in the next round after they edged past Manchester Magic after overtime.

In a match littered with fouls, Thunder overcame their visitors thanks to deadly three-point shooting. The hosts hit a season-high 18 triples, for 58 percent, which led the way to victory.

Marquis Mathis led Thunder with a double-double of 26 points and 10 rebounds with James Grinham hitting eight three-pointers for a 24-point haul, and it was the latter who came alive down the stretch to ensure Worthing’s passage to the next round.

“You could tell from the start just by the atmosphere and how both teams came out that this was a playoff game,” said Grinham afterwards. “For us, we’ve been waiting for the playoffs for a while and all week we’ve been locked in on this game as we knew that if we slipped up that would be our season over so we’re pleased to overcome a strong team in Team Northumbria.”

This season’s club MVP Brendan Okoronkwo picked up the night’s Barkers Tarring MVP award with 22 points with Jorge Ebanks flirting with a triple-double as he picked up 15 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

“This was an intense match but all playoff games are going to be like this as it’s the best teams going at it,” said Okoronkwo. “There was not much in it tonight but we did enough to keep Northumbria at bay and I’m happy for the guys that we are still in it.”

Atif Russell led Team Northumbria with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

A very physical opening saw both teams rack up the fouls early on but despite the scrappy nature of the first quarter, Thunder stormed out of the gates as they quickly found their range from distance and a triple from Zaire Taylor gave the hosts a 20-9 lead, forcing Northumbria coach Marc Steutel to call a timeout. The break certainly benefited the visitors as they narrowed the gap to four thanks to eight points straight from Russell but led by Grinham, Worthing kept their composure to lead 26-21 after the first.

Worthing were able to keep their noses in front in the second quarter as Okoronkwo caught fire from three-point land and a further basket inside from Thunder’s captain restored their double-digit lead at 48-38. The visitors, guided by Malcolm Smith made the latter stages of the second interesting but Worthing took a 54-48 lead into the break.

The hosts held the visitors scoreless for the first three minutes of the third as Thunder retained their double-digit lead. Team Northumbria once again narrowed the gap, but that was followed by a scoring outburst from Mathis, who scored eight points in quick succession to hand Worthing a 73-60 lead, eventually settling for a 77-65 cushion after three.

Despite pressure from the visitors in the early stages of the fourth, Thunder managed to keep them at bay with Grinham having the last word with three triples in the final period to ice the game.

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