With a glorious wide treble with just 6.2 seconds left on the clock, Juan Valerio scored the vital points to secure Rockets eighth win on the trot and maintain their fight for the league title.
For 85% of the game Rockets had control but then Storm drew level and the enthralled crowd encouraged the exhausted team to secure the victory against all the odds. With their Head Coach suffering from a neck strain but still taking responsibility for his young team, coupled to Joel Keeble side-lined with a broken wrist bone, Manuel Pena Garces didn’t want the news he got as he arrived at Rivermead…his big American had a back strain. But Chris Hooper decided to try it out though only lasting 8 minutes before succumbing to the pain putting more responsibility on the young Rockets ( average age just 21 years 6 months ) and the three remaining experienced players, captain Danny Carter, influential guard Craig Ponder and shooting guard Juan Valerio.
Rockets opened up a double digit lead early in the game as clinical finishing and superb team play released Craig Ponder to stroke a treble and give Rockets an opening run of 12-0. Hemel hit the first of their ten trebles but a Juan Valerio assist to Hooper for a slam dunk and his last points kept Storm at bay. An arrow pass from Valerio found captain Danny Carter who scored from the free throw line as he was fouled before he took an offensive rebound to help himself to 2 more points. An Ali Sbai slam and a Ponder coast to coast score on the buzzer gave Rockets a comfortable 26-13 lead.
Fidel Gomez took down a key defensive rebound before a pair of trebles from the influential point guard Ponder stretched Rockets advantage to 16 points at 36-20. Ibu Demba Jassey was grateful to his captain for an assist allowing him an easy score before Ponder stroked another three pointer and seeing Rockets 20 points up. With so many young players in the team, they each got plenty of minutes though Storm finished the quarter with a 15-8 run to see them go the changing rooms 38-51 down having drawn this period 25 points each. Ponder had scored 19 points before the break and remarkedly hit another 16 points in the second half too….an awesome performance with just 41 second’s rest throughout the whole game.
Ponder made a key block to stop Storm in their tracks before Paulin Jardin fought tenaciously to gain possession for Rockets. A Gomez steal was converted by Sbai but the half time chat in the Hemel dressing room had caused a storm on court as despite Carter hitting a three pointer from the top of the key, Hemel hit five trebles and had another three point play in quarter three which they took 27-20 to close the gap to 71-65 in Rockets favour.
A Storm 8-0 run to start the final period saw them take the lead momentarily before Ponder hit a treble to restore Rockets lead and one which they kept till the final buzzer. A Sbai spin score was responded by a Storm steal and three point play before Carter emphasised his captaincy with key drives and scores. Sbai hit a treble and a six point lead was most helpful going into the last few minutes. A brilliant drive and scoop score from Valerio kept Rockets momentum as their tired bodies felt the strain. Ponder and Carter contrived to keep Rockets five up as the last minute approached and then Storm made two scores including hitting a treble and the game was level with 44 seconds remaining. Phew. Time for a time out thought both coaches as the end game scenario beckoned and for very different reasons both teams wanted this win.
A Ponder drive and score edged Rockets ahead but Storm levelled again on 97 each. Another time-out and Rockets possession with just 11.1 secs to go. A brilliantly coached possession play saw Valerio deep out wide with a very difficult shot but the Spaniard did all he was asked and stroked a treble leaving Storm to do likewise with 6.2 seconds left. Cometh the hour cometh the team and they stopped Storm’s offense and secured a very big victory.
Rockets stood resolute and all the players and coaching staff jumped for joy as the final buzzer sounded. The three experienced guys Carter, Valerio and Ponder took the strain and scored the vital points at the vital times hitting 19 of Rocket’s last 22 points in this time with each of the Academy and other young players also having outstanding performances.
Top scorers for Rockets were Craig Ponder with a season high 35 pts., 4 rebounds and 4 assists; Danny Carter with 25 pts., 8 rebounds and 3 assists; Juan Valerio with 15 pts., and 2 assists and Ali Sbai with 15 pts., 6 rebounds and 2 assists.
|14/01/2017||18:00||NBL Division 1||2016 / 2017|
|24 Richfield Ave, Reading, Reading RG1, UK|