Worthing Thunder coach Daniel Gayle admits the National League Division 1 title is now out of their hands following a narrow 90-85 loss to table-toppers Solent Kestrels.
Roared on by a near sell-out crowd at Worthing Leisure Centre, defeat marked the time Thunder had failed to win on home turf in the league all season.
A disastrous run of 19-0 in the third quarter would ultimately cost Worthing.
Kestrels turned around a 47-41 deficit with a fine third quarter display, to lead 72-59 going into the fourth and final period.
Thunder narrowed the gap to 88-85 with just under a minute to go but new signing Marquis Mathis missed two chances to tie and potentially send the game to overtime.
And with seconds left, Solent’s American forward Joe Tagarelli exploited a gap in the Worthing defence to seal the win with an easy bucket inside to extend Kestrels’ lead at the top, leaving coach Gayle little doubt that every match from here on in is a must-win.
“It’s out of our hands, we just have to win our games now and look for results elsewhere to help us out,” Gayle said.
“Solent are a great team, they are well coached and I hope we can see them again in the play-offs.
“As a coach, as a competitor, you want to play against the best teams and we already want to go back and prove a point.”
Thunder guard Jorge Ebanks led his team with 18 points as he continues his rehab following a shoulder injury, which he admits isn’t quite at 100 per cent despite the impressive haul.
Like coach Gayle, Ebanks feels that it’s back to the drawing board as Thunder look to get new signing Mathis settled in and get their groove back.
He said: “We have a new guy that is settling in so we got to find ways to get him used to our system but now we have to figure out what we need to do now ahead of the Reading game.
“We got a week off to really work hard and get our rhythm back.
“We’re back to the drawing board, we got to start over and get it together.”
Due to London Lithuanica’s withdrawal from the league, Thunder are without a match this weekend.
Worthing welcome Reading Rockets - a team they have lost to twice this season already - for what could prove to be a crucial meeting against another fellow play-off chasing team on February, 3.
With the stakes now so high as we enter the final third of the season, Gayle wants a response from his team.
He added: “I’ve got to challenge the guys a bit more, I’ve got to be a bit more assertive - playtime is over.
“We had a great run, everyone was hyped about it but Solent brought us back down.
“Now we are hoping for Solent and Loughborough to lose a bunch of games, we need to beat Reading now to keep our title and play-off push strong.
“We need to focus on what we can do, play to our strengths and this week off is about really pushing the guys and getting them prepared.”