After a tortuous journey south from Newcastle the night before, you could justifiably have expected a tired Rockets to take to the floor but a rejuvenated team took the game to the joint league leaders from tip till the final buzzer with a determined display.
Chris Hooper, who was to lead all scorers on the night, opened Rockets account and set out his stall as the man to stop around the ring as he scored 8 points and dished an assist to Joel Keeble who stroked a brace of trebles. The ever improving Paulin Jardim finished with a finger roll, then took down an offensive rebound splaying a pass to Craig Ponder who hit a glorious treble, a feat doubled by Rockets captain Danny Carter. Rockets edged the opening quarter 27-25 .
Juan Valerio opened his tally with a trademark treble and Rockets determination to put behind last night’s tough loss was highlighted when two of the players fought tenaciously on the floor to gain possession. Ali Sbai stole the ball and went coast to coast to score after scoring moments earlier with a lay-up. Rockets were to lose the lead for the first time with less than 3 minutes of the second period to go. Another Carter treble drew them closer but a pair of similar from Dragons saw Rockets go to the interval 45-49 in arrears.
It seemed as if every time Rockets got to within a single point of Dragons , they’d see another missile nestle in the basket but still Rockets fought. Ponder was at his most influential as well as adding 8 points to his personal tally whilst Chris Hooper stole the show under the basket as he worked hard and drew fouls. At the end of the game his body must have been black and blue with all the physical battering he endured keeping Rockets within striking distance as they stayed 3-4 points off the very good Dragons team throughout the quarter. Both Rockets Americans worked well together as they amassed 19 of Rockets 24 points during this period. A buzzer beating Dragons score saw Rockets adrift 69-76 though both Head Coaches were still thinking, we can win this.
This was a great game for the spectators as the skill level was high, shooting percentages high , speed of the game electric, respect for each other earned and given as they played out a 27-26 final quarter shootout edged by Rockets but still not enough to secure the win as Dragons held on to take the victory 102-96. Hooper and Ponder again shone through but Dragons point and shooting guard, Marcus Gooding, will entertain many crowds in his first season in this top English league.
Top scorers for Rocket were Chris Hooper with 33 points, Craig Ponder with 20 points, Joel Keeble with 15 points and Danny Carter with 11 points. Rockets now travel to Brentwood on Friday evening to take on Essex Leopards.
With a very professional performance Rockets kept up their title challenge on the road to start their 2016 campaign. Rockets played to their inside strengths with Ben Allison truly now settled into the team contributing some 34 points as they settled into their game plan after losing the opening exchanges and finding themselves 9-11 down midway through the first quarter. An 18-8 run littered with fine work by Allison coupled to great floor hustle from Antonio Robinson, a Joel Keeble steal, a key block by D’Montre Edwards and fine finishing eased Rockets to a 27-19 advantage.
Dragons opened the scoring in the second period but a great strip from Robinson followed by a superb high pass to Allison to add to his ever increasing personal tally gave Rockets the double digit lead they sought and which they maintained to the interval. A Danny Carter intercept and a clinical arrow pass to Allison for another easy score by Edwards saw Rockets 47-37 up though very frustrated that Dragons hadn’t incurred any fouls until 7.2 seconds to the break when they purposely tried to stop Rockets finish the quarter with a greater lead.
It was midway through the third period before Dragons were called for a foul compared to Rockets being in team fouls before such time in both the first quarters. Allison inevitably scored first for Rockets as the quarter began before he took down a very high interception to stop Dragons. An Edwards treble, a Robinson strip followed by a length of the court Robinson pass gave Allison a slam dunk finish. A Carter spin move and an Edwards pull up jump shot saw Rockets with a comfortable 15 point lead and when Robinson timed his drive to score on the buzzer Rockets enjoyed a 68-51 lead going into the final period.
Head Coach Manuel Pena Garces rested Allison and Edwards early in the fourth quarter but still Rockets piled on the points through a quality reverse lay-up by Robinson and extended their defence with another big block by Edwards. Down but certainly not out Dragons still fought tenaciously but they hadn’t been able to stop the dominant Allison who was the game’s top scorer. A 88-71 victory was just reward for a very professional performance after Rockets had travelled north with just 8 players as one turned his ankle in training on Friday night and another couldn’t travel because of sickness.
Pena Garces will hope Wayne Yeboah is well enough to join the team tomorrow for the crucial National Trophy quarter final away to Lancashire Spinners at Bury tipping off at 1.30 pm.
Top scorers for Rockets were Ben Allison with 34 pts., D’Montre Edwards with 17 pts. and Antonio Robinson with 15 pts.