After a prolonged journey troubled by a coach puncture coupled to a late tip off due to a serious injury to a player in the Ladies game that had preceded this Men’s Div.1 game, it took Rockets most of the first half to settle into the powerful performance that they displayed after the break. Without the services of captain Danny Carter, back injury, Rockets determination to avenge the first home league defeat in October by Derby by ten points showed through as they came back from 37-39 adrift at the interval to secure a fine 13 point victory on the road. This maintains Rockets in third place in the league and with leaders and league favourites Solent Kestrels picking up their second defeat either side of the Christmas break, there’s renewed hope for the trailing 3 / 4 teams including Rockets.
Head Coach Alan Keane has never been afraid to release the prodigious talent he has in Rockets academy and with Ronan O’Sullivan still out with a broken hand and Carter missing, James Jolly was included in the team together with 4 other regular academy youngsters and each played key roles. Arinze Emeka-Anyakwo played for 35 minutes and David Chive had 23 minutes too, showing their importance to this still developing team. Trailblazers also showed their desire to do the double over Rockets as they stormed the defensive boards with 19 rebounds compared to an unusually low 11 for the visitors, and were 50% more successful from inside and beyond the arc with their shootingas their leading marksman Malcolm Smith had 15 points and 5 rebounds before the break though Rockets restricted him to just 7 more points and 2 more rebounds in the second half. Derby extended their lead to 44-38 in the opening exchanges after the interval but a 33- 9 Rockets run almost exterminated the fire of the Trailblazers. Trae Pemberton was finding his three point shooting eye early in the game and exploded into it with five big trebles from the start of the third quarter till the final buzzer. However three of these trebles were also buzzer beaters, one from just inside his own half. With A J Carr scoring 13 points in the third period Rockets took off with a 34-14 quarter and a lead of 71-53 as the final stanza arrived.
Derby hit three trebles to try and get back into the contest but Coach Keane had clearly encouraged his players to rise to the boards as Rockets took the second half by 26-18 and the players shooting averages had much improved. They only missed one throw from the penalty stripe out of eleven. Keane was also using all his academy players no doubt thinking ahead of the following days game against south coast rivals and title contenders Worthing Thunderbut with less than 2 minutes remaining another ankle injury to the effervescent Irishman Adrian O’Sullivan dampened Rockets spirits a little as they journeyed home though high with a big victory securing that third league placing.
Rockers were led by double doubles from both their American players as Trae Pemberton had 28 pts., 11 rebounds and 6 assists with A J Carr hitting 26 pts.,and also having 11 rebounds.
Despite the absence of Danny Carter and the withdrawal of key Aussie Declan Soukup and Academy student Adrian Nosa with sickness moments before the coach left for Derby, Rockets galvanised themselves, fought tenaciously for any loose ball and showed further improvement in their defence to take the vital league win.
The game began with Rockets Sydney Donaldson scoring with a lay-up back at the arena he played at just 2 seasons ago. He was warmly welcomed by Trailblazers supporters and was determined to give of his best though his early enthusiasm saw him being called for two fouls in the electric 8-1 Rockets start. Hard as a rock, Jonny Foulds took his trademark charge whilst Tim Gill showed he was a threat on the boards and Ali Sbai finished some smart Rocket moves. Derby hit a buzzer beating treble to edge ahead for the first time by a single point but Joel Keeble stroked a wide shot to level the scores on 18 with a couple of minutes of the opening period to go. But 6’9” Academy player Alex Drincic hit a top of the key treble, Keeble and Tim Gill drove to score and Rockets re-took the lead and didn’t surrender it again.
The 25-22 score was added to by Drincic with the opening move of the second quarter and Gill increased his presence in the key as he dominated the rebounds, scored, drew fouls and was a genuine thorn in the flesh for Derby. Rockets maintained a 6/7 point advantage for almost all this period as Donaldson lead by example, Keeble stroked a treble and Scotty Hendricks helped himself to more penalty stripe points and scored with a pull up jumper. A Keeble steal and arrow assist kept Trailblazers at bay though at a cost of three players being on three personal fouls kept Head Coach Manuel Pena Garces on his toes with substitutions. Nonetheless Rockets led at the interval by 50-45.
The third quarter saw Gil at his imposing best as scored seven points but took down four key rebounds as Rockets took control. Concern was expressed by the travelling supporters and the coaching team as the game was stopped as Hendricks went over on his ankle and lay on the floor for a couple of minutes before being carried off court for attention by Rockets physio. Ed Potter shone throughout this period as fought on the floor and in the air to grab the ball for Rockets as Sbai hit a downtown treble and Rockets had a double digit lead that they weren’t going to relinquish for the remainder of the game other than momentary. A patched up Hendricks returned to the floor spraying assists everywhere, making a steal and finish and stroking a treble from a Donaldson assist as Rockets advantage stretched to 15 points at 73-58 as the final stanza beckoned thanks to a 23-13 quarter.
An unforced Rockets error was punished by Derby but Gill was so prominent scoring around the basket with regularity it was a frustration for the Derby coaching team and supporters. Derby still came forward but with determination expressed by Potter ( floor hustle ) Donaldson and Foulds ( taking charges ) the game was secure. Sbai hit another treble, Donaldson made a great save to maintain Rockets possession Rockets closed out the game with a thoroughly deserved victory and keeping pace with other r league leaders who have played more games.
Tops corers for Rockets were Tim Gill with 24 pts., and 17 rebounds ( awesome stats ); Sydney Donaldson with 17 pts., and 5 assists; Scotty Hendricks with 14 pts., and 11 assists with Ali Sbai hitting 14 pts., too.
Rockets now travel today to Solent for the National Cup quarter final tipping at 3 Pm at the St Mary’s Centre.
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With a team depleted in number and carrying nagging injuries, this was an outstanding team display against title contenders who had beaten Rockets very early in the season by 12 points. Captain Danny Carter led the 8 players magnificently with the mercurial Craig Ponder, the grafting Chris Hooper and the sharp shooting Academy student Ali Sbai making major contributions.
Derby won the tip and scored within 4 secs to set the pace for the opening quarter, clearly looking to play a fast game and try and tire out a team with four players 19 and under, an injured 17 year old on the bench in case of emergencies and just three experienced players. How these guys were to overcome such adversity is a credit to their commitment, training and focus on the goal of winning the Div. 1 title after finding themselves with three losses in their first 4 games. Carter gave Paulin Jardim an easy lay-up and Hooper did what he does week in, week out by taking down a rebound and scoring. Carter and another assist to Hooper quickly followed by Ponder doing likewise as Rockets’ excellent team play was much on display. After two more assists by Carter he helped himself to a reverse base line score to ensure Rockets edged the opening period 23-19.
The second quarter was a joy to behold as Rockets took it 34-16. Rockets imposed themselves on a team that was above them before the tip and with whom Rockets needed a 13 point advantage to take the head to head should that be needed in this very competitive league at the end of the season.
Again Derby scored first but Ali Sbai had a purple patch making a steal and scoring seven personal points giving Rockets a double digit lead which they built upon for the remainder of the game with some panache too. 18 year old Ibu Demba Jassey made a crucial rebound and then was fouled in an unsportsmanlike manner from which he scored. An awesome final three minutes of the quarter saw Rockets blitz Derby by 18-6 with a buzzer beating treble from Ponder being the icing on the cake at 57-35.
Rockets knew Derby would be pressing and chasing everything as they sought to reduce the deficit and give themselves a fighting chance of the win but Jardim stood tall and strong to take a charge and Carter stroked another treble. Juan Valerio found his range with a treble, Carter made a big block and Sbai added five quick points to see a 22 point advantage as the final quarter beckoned at 78-56.
Carter threw himself to the floor to hustle for the ball but Rockets found themselves in team foul trouble within two minute of the re-start yet again they persevered, played cleverly as Hooper kept working away inside amassing 22 points and taking down 16 rebounds. Ponder took control scoring off drives, his trademark pull up jump shot and making assists as well as running the show for Rockets who, after Sbai hit another treble to ensure Rockets would be returning to Reading with a key victory, enabled Head Coach Manuel Pena Garces to bring off Carter, Hooper and Valerio to applause as Ponder stayed to the end enjoying the moment with the remainder of the players and coaching team.
Though Derby hit the last points this was a magnificent result of 93-75 seeing Rockets move to third in the table. Rockets’ physio now has his work cut out to get the injured players fit for next weekend’s home game against Essex Leopards tipping at 5 pm on Sunday 29th January.
Top scorers for Rockets were Craig Ponder with 30 points, 5 assists, 3 steals and 5 rebounds. Chris Hooper had 22 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 blocks. Ali Sbai had 18 points, and captain Danny Carter had 11 points,7 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks in a comprehensive display.