Worthing Thunder advanced to the NBL Division 1 playoff final after a deserved 76-65 win over Loughborough Student Riders on the Loughborough University campus on Saturday afternoon.

In a game of two halves, crucially, Worthing’s time came in the third and fourth quarter where they came back from a ten-point deficit to take their first lead early in the third and despite a couple of lead changes throughout, Thunder were always in control of a physical contest.

Marquis Mathis led Worthing with 28 points with Zaire Taylor adding 21 and Brendan Okoronkwo posting a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds.

“In the half-time team talk, I reminded the guys of their overall experience and what they have accomplished playing at high levels and how to use every inch of that going into the third quarter against a team that I feel can crumble under pressure,” said Coach D, who reaches a playoff final in his first season in charge said afterwards.

“We were a little flustered in the first half and we let Loughborough play their game but when we came out for the third, we were dominant and we played to our strengths and even though not everyone scored, everyone played a vital role in this win.”

Former Worthing Thunder forward Max Richardson along with Alex Roberts led Loughborough with 13 points. Former Thunder forward Hosana Kitenge amassed nine points.

Mathis scored Thunder’s first seven points in an intense opening where the referees let a lot of contact go. The hosts though got their first opening during the mid-way point as back-to-back three-pointers from Lucien Christofis and a rare triple from Kitenge gave the Riders a 17-9 lead, forcing Coach D to call a timeout. Thunder, thanks to Okoronkwo recovered but a deep three off the backboard from Richardson handed the Student Riders a 23-18 lead after one.

A further three-pointer from Roberts extended the home team’s lead before foul shots from Mathis and a first bucket of the game from Taylor put Thunder to within two points. The Student Riders responded with a 9-0 run to put them up by double-digits for the first time. Worthing responded with a 7-0 run themselves but the hosts had their noses in front 40-37 at the half.

The break in play helped Thunder as quick buckets by Mathis and Okoronkwo handed Worthing their first lead of the game. The Student Riders were rocked as the momentum was with Thunder as they led for the majority of the quarter. Loughborough, who were making basic errors to start the period came back into the game and a late spurt led by Kitenge narrowed the visitors’ lead to 58-56.

A three-point play by Taylor to begin the fourth was the start of a game-changing 6-0 run that gave Thunder a 64-56 lead and despite a brief spell by the hosts, Mathis and Jorge Ebanks handed Worthing their first double-digit lead at 68-58, which ultimately sealed the game and a spot in the NBL Division 1 playoff final in Manchester.

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