Hank Rivers led Worthing Thunder with 23 points as they got their season off and running with an 84-82 victory over Derby Trailblazers at the Worthing Leisure Centre on Sunday evening.
Thunder certainly made hard work of it though; they were up by 12 points at 71-59 with 7.55 remaining when Derby came back into the contest with contributions from Martyn Gayle and Rishi Kakad as the Trailblazers came back to within three at 82-79 with 50 seconds to go.
Thunder though held their nerve at the line as Marcus Tullis hit one from his two free-throws to make it 83-82 and after Derby blew their chance to take the lead it was left to Courtney Small who despite splitting a pair of foul shots, sealed the win at 84-82.
Derby had a final chance, but there was hardly any time left on the clock and the hosts celebrated their maiden league win.
“I love those pressure situations,” admitted Small. “All I was thinking was just to keep up the defence and whatever I do, I do not like my man to get the ball and if he does give him hell.”
While Rivers was having a consistent night, shooting 71% from the field on 10/14 overall, Vinnie Darpino supported with 22 points and it was the Canadian native, Small who added 17 points and seven steals to the stat sheet.
It was the visiting Trailblazers who got off to a fast start, leading 9-2 early. Rivers responded for Thunder with buckets inside as Thunder got back into the contest. But Derby hit back by taking an 18-8 advantage mid-way through the first period.
Thanks to the contribution of Darpino and Rivers, Thunder clawed back into the game, but the visitors were still on top after one at 26-19.
Worthing’s strong finish to the first quarter carried on to the second period as a Darpino-inspired Thunder charge gave them a 32-29 lead with three minutes of the second quarter played that had Derby rocked.
Trailblazers couldn’t handle Thunder’s organised team defence as consistent scores from Rivers gave Thunder a 42-35 advantage, a lead they managed to keep at the half as Worthing enjoyed a double-digit lead at 50-40.
Thunder managed to keep their double-digit lead for the majority of the third quarter, leading 59-48 as both sides traded buckets in a scrappy start to the third period.
Derby tried clawing their way back into the contest as they tried to up the tempo, but Thunder hung on to the double-digit advantage going into the final stanza 67-57.
Beginning the fourth period, it seemed that Worthing was making rash decisions, as Derby pounced and finally found their range, thanks to the hot streak of Gayle, narrowing the gap to 75-68 with four minutes left. This set-up the grandstand finish.
“This was a morale-boosting win for us tonight, no doubt about it,” Thunder coach Gary Smith said. “The team did exactly what was asked of them, there was a nervous moment at the end and we survived as a team. We listened to each other as a team and we played together as a team.”