BASKETBALL: Underdogs CWA Fury are through to the National League Division Four play-off final after another night of high drama.
A 64-62 overtime victory against highly-fancied Barking & Dagenham Thunder on Saturday means that Fury will take on Oxford Brookes University Devils for a place in National League Division Three at Sheffield’s English Institute of Sport tomorrow.
Brookes beat Doncaster Eagles 109-80 on Sunday to book their place and are no strangers to Fury, despite playing in the South West Division. The teams met at Oxford in the quarter-final of the National Shield when the hosts were 102-90 victors.
A frantic finish and even more hectic overtime period eventually saw Fury clinch victory at a Barking team who had beaten No. 1 seeds Newcastle University on their way to the last four.
Fury had already lost home and away to Thunder in the regular season and were without captain, Richard Milbourne who has left for Canada but it was Jonas Pranevicius who opened the scoring for Fury. That sparked a rush of triples. Marian Henry hit two for Thunder but Artur Jakiel replied in like fashion for Fury and Alexis Laryn added another to give Fury an 11-6 lead.
Thunder rolled in 11 points without reply and at 19-12 the home side must have felt confident of taking control. But Tomas Liberis hit two further triples for the King’s Lynn team as they responded with a 14-2 run of their own to go 26-21 up.
It was all square at 28 apiece at the interval and the half-time message for the Fury squad was simple. Coach James Bamfield told them they had all the tools they required to win the contest, provided they stayed focused.
The start of the third quarter was very attritional with the referees having a task on their hands as tempers frayed. Finally Deividas Butkevicius scored four consecutive points to edge Fury 35-30 ahead. Thunder came back to tie the scores at 35s and the lead changed hands five times before a long-range buzzer beater from Thunder saw the teams end the quarter level
Fury’s resources were stretched as both guards – Liberis and Giedrius Pakalniskis – were benched with five fouls. In a dramatic finale, Eivydas Aleksa sprang to life to hit Fury’s final seven points of the contest.
His effort matched a similar run from Thunder’s Henry and as time ran down there was still nothing between the sides.
The ending came down to free throws. Having given Fury a one-point lead at 57-56 Aleksa went to the line for an ‘and-one’. His attempt missed and Thunder had only seconds remaining to try to tie the game. They went to the basket but were fouled, meaning that they could win the game from the line. Palmer bagged the first point but missed the second and, after a short scramble, Fury held on to the ball.
The buzzer sounded with the scores tied at 57-57 to herald overtime.
Fury edged ahead but then lost Aleksa with his fifth foul so Bamfield had to make key changes. At 64-58 it looked as though Fury were winners but Thunder did not lie down.
When Fury lost Butkevicius to his fifth foul, Bamfield had his only five available players on court, including young Luke Huggins who had acquitted himself well.
Henry went to the line having been fouled on a three-point attempt. He hit one of three. Thunder rebounded the third, got the ball deep to Henry who responded with a triple to close the gap to two points.
Pranevicius was fouled and went to the free throw line for Fury. He missed the first and then deliberately missed the second to eat into the remaining time. His ploy failed as an infringement gave Thunder the ball back with three seconds remaining. But their effort came up short and Fury players and fans began their wild celebrations.
Fury now need to raise their game even higher when they take on Oxford tomorrow. The Devils won all 18 of their matches to lift the South West Division tile and the second seeds have since put out City of Birmingham 94-85, Myerscough Giants 95-81 and Doncaster on their way to the final.
In contrast, Fury had a 9-5 record and finished third in the East Midlands Division. But Fury have punched way above their 13th-place seeding to see off the challenge of Brentwood Fire 85-73, Brunel University 91-82 and Thunder to earn their chance of glory.