In their last league game of the season the injury hit team fought tenaciously coming back from 17 points down to get within a shot of winning the battle for the league runners up spot with possession and just 7.7 secs remaining but the drive and lay up just rolled around the ring and didn’t fall giving Magic the win.
Rockets Chairman Gary Johnson was first to say how proud he is of the team who lost 3 of their first 4 games, then went on a 19-0 winning streak but 5 games in the final 15 days of the league season was just a step too far for the depleted team. ‘4 games in 8 days made it extremely tough but the guys fought as we know those wearing a Rockets vest always do’, said Johnson.
‘I’m sure the coaches and team are bitterly disappointed but we have the Championship play off quarter final to come on Sunday 2nd April and I know they’ll be determined to try and bring silverware back to the town.’.
Manchester opened the scoring and drew the first foul within 19 secs of the start but soon Chris Hooper did what he does best, spun and put Rockets on the scoreboard. When captain Danny Carter was called for his second personal foul mid way through the opening quarter Rockets knew it was going to be a tough game keeping on the right side of the officials which ultimately they didn’t as both Rockets’ big inside men, Hooper and Carter were benched on 3 fouls each before the interval.
In the 18/19 first period Hooper had 10 personal points and was proving a thorn in Magic’s side but he couldn’t add to that before he was called for a foul which immediately was followed by a technical foul despite him not remonstrating with the officials and much to the disquiet of Rockets Head Coach Manuel Pena Garces. Craig Ponder stroked a single to get Rocket within a single point of Magic but the lack in depth of big men in this period saw Magic make hay taking it 21/11 and leading at the break 40/29.
A Ponder drive and Hooper spin encouraged Rockets who had their biggest travelling support of the season but three consecutive misses were punished by Magic who opened up a 17 point lead just over 3 minutes into the third quarter. Carter stroked a treble, only Rockets’ second of the game. and Juan Valerio scored off the glass. Hooper was secure from the penalty stripe and Valerio drove to reduce the deficit. Some big defensive boards by Hooper didn’t get the benefit they deserved as Rockets missed the scoring opportunity and when Ponder didn’t get the roll of the ball with a lay-up Rockets found themselves with a double digit deficit at 42/52.
A pair of drives by Valerio and a defensive rebound by Carter saw Rockets close the gap to just 6 points in the last minute of the third but Valerio hit the court hard in one drive and the game was held up whilst he had treatment. Rockets missed a scoring opportunity in this time so went into the final quarter 46/52 adrift.
Rockets exploded out of the blocks with an 8-0 run to take the lead 54-52 as Magic called a time out. In the next minute or so they hit back to back trebles , made a steal and score and then hit another treble to regain some sort of control. But Ali Sbai hit his only treble of the game and Ponder made a steal and went coast to coast to score and to see Rockets quickly back in contention just 4 points in arrears at 61/65. A Carter spin and score was cancelled out by the referees for travel much to the amazement of him and the coaching team. Still Rockets fought and were in the ascendancy as the final minute showed on the clock. A Magic treble was matched by a Carter treble and with just 37.3 secs remaining, Rockets had fouls to give and put pressure on Magic as they went to the free throw line. A pair scored and a pair missed was separated by another Carter score before the Rockets captain drained a big treble to take Rockets to a single point deficit with
14.9 secs remaining. Magic hit just one from two from the line and Rockets had possession. Ponder drove to the basket with 7.7 secs to go, rose and offered the ball to the ring , hoping to also draw the foul and give Rockets the chance of victory but the ball rolled across the ring and slipped off leaving Rockets to foul, trying to get another possession but Magic hit the penalty shots and Rockets runners up goal had been shattered with disappointment despite a great fight back and against all the odds.
Rockets now have a week to recover before the Championship Play-off quarter final at Rivermead on Sunday tipping at 5 pm – the opposition is likely to be Team Solent Kestrels or Loughborough Student Riders, but this is not yet confirmed. Whoever Rockets are playing, it will be a great game and one not to be missed.
Top scorers for Rockets were Chris Hooper with 18 points and 10 rebounds, Danny Carter with17 points., and 9 rebounds and Craig Ponder with 17 points,
7 rebounds and 4 assists.
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