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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Following their superb win on Saturday night against second placed Derby Trailblazers, Rockets travelled north to take on the newly crowned champions and came away with a glorious victory that secures third spot in the league and, but for a few more points win the night before, would have meant they captured the league runners-up place. Having suffered a pair of single and two point losses the previous week, Rockets gave themselves what everyone else thought was an impossible task by beating both Derby and Manchester who had sat at the top of the table for months with Magic having also won the Trophy and the Cup. But that’s exactly what they did and in style.
Head Coach Manuel Pena Garces was pleased to have a fully fit team though short of the juniors who were away in France in an eight team tournament. Magic opened the scoring with a couple of buckets before Tony Robinson, playing with an injured eye cut in the previous night’s game, and Danny Carter with a treble announced Rockets’ intention on fighting for the vital win against a team who had only lost two games all season. D’Montre Edwards imposed himself on the game with a lay-up and finger rolls as Rockets went on a 9-0 run. However Magic aren’t champions without having talent and team spirit and despite Jordan Nicholls stroking a Rockets treble, Magic went on a 11-0 run to finish the initial period 21-20 ahead.
Magic continued their fine play as they stretched their lead to double figures at 32-22 but another brace of Nicholls trebles stopped Magic in their tracks. A penetrative bounce pass from Carter to Robinson to score coupled to a pair of assists from Robinson to Nicholls and an Edwards finger roll saw Rockets just a couple of points in arrears as the interval beckoned. They appeared to have stopped the last Magic offence but a fortunate deflection still saw Magic have the advantage at 40-37 . Both teams had had ten point leads with Magic’s biggest scoring run of eleven just two points ahead of Rockets’ best at nine points. Even at the end of the game these stats were to remain the best of the game showing what a tight affair this game was.
Magic scored off their possession but Robinson scored from way down town and Carter hit a pair of free throws to draw the teams level on 42 each. Magic went on a 6-0 run but Wayne Yeboah stopped that run from the penalty stripe but Carter was called for his third foul so had to be rested. A David Ajumobi spin and score with Edwards secure with a brace of free throws saw Rockets stay in touch even if four points adrift with three minutes of the penultimate quarter remaining until Magic hit four more points. A typical Yeboah offensive rebound and score complemented by a dish from Ajumobi to Yeboah to score again and Fraser Glass wide treble gave Rockets the impetus though still 59-61 behind at the start of the final period.
This was changed into a single point lead as Edwards hit a treble before he drove to finish again and have Rockets enjoy a 64-61 momentary lead as Magic made a three point play to draw the teams level on 64, a fate that was accomplished on 66, 68,70 and 75 as both teams were giving their all in the last league game of the season. An Ajumobi tip in and a classic Robinson spin coupled to a big defensive Edwards rebound encouraged Rockets but a slip on the floor saw Magic hit a treble. Nicholls responded with another of his own trebles moments later as with just three and a half minutes remaining the teams were tied on 75 each. Who would buckle under the pressure ? Who could hold their own form the penalty stripe as both teams were in foul trouble ? Well Rockets captain Danny Carter led from the front as he hit both penalty shots, stroked a treble and then made a steal to score seven personal points during this end game scenario. Robinson was happy to have and keep the ball till he was fouled and again he was sure from the line but all the team played their part in a significant victory – Magic 83 Rockets 89 – that see Rockets secure third place in the league and a home tie against erstwhile rivals Essex Leopards who have beaten Rockets just ten days ago in Reading so a titanic affair awaits at Rivermead at 5 pm next Sunday 3rd April.
Top scorers for Rockets were D’Montre Edwards with 21 points and 7 rebounds (and a field goal percentage of 90% !!); Jordan Nicholls with 16 points, including four trebles, Tony Robinson with 16 points, three assists; Danny Carter with 15 points and three steals; Wayne Yeboah with 9 points and 8 rebounds and David Ajumobi with 9 points and four assists .