On Saturday night at the Thunderdome in Worthing, a packed audience enjoyed a mighty battle between two teams well known to each other and respectful of each other’s primary assets……outstanding shooting skills of Thunder against a well drilled and talented Rockets side. In the end the Thunder edged it in the last 19 secs.
The game began with a titanic battle as both teams fought for early supremacy. Tim Gill scored Rockets first points with his traditional offensive rebound and score before Jonny Foulds drove and finished and then stroked the only treble of the opening period. Worthing’s two key players, Zaire Taylor and Mathis Marquis began their assault on the Rockets basket and took the quarter 24-16. However a 12-3 run at the start of the second quarter saw Rockets take a slender lead 28-27 . A Thunder steal saw the lead change and they went on a 10-0 run to have a 38-30 advantage midway through this second period. An excellent length of the court vision and pass from Declan Soukup gave Gill an easy score before Gill went base line to bring Rockets closer but still adrift 36-42 at the interval by which time Foulds and Ed Potter had hit season high first half scores of 10 and 9 points respectively whilst Declan Soukup was masterminding the Rockets plays as he sent assists to all parts of the court finding open players.
Rockets were on fire after the half time de-brief and went on a 8-2 run to bring the scores level on 44. This was repeated on 46, 50 and 66 as both teams had their best offensive quarters. Sydney Donaldson came alive with 10 personal points whilst Scotty Hendricks and Danny Carter stroked trebles. The Thunders go-to man, Taylor, stroked some great shots and got the packed Thunderdome into a frenzy, great atmosphere. A foul as Taylor was shooting from beyond the arc as the clock counted down, was capitalised by him and saw Thunder edge ahead 69-66 as the final quarter beckoned.
Rockets turned on the after burners as they went on a 9-0 run to lead 75-69 within 3 minutes of the re-start and in appearing to score again, Foulds was called for a charging foul, his fourth. Potter was stripped of the ball as he rose to score and Taylor shot from way down town to give Thunder a 77-74 advantage with 6 minutes to go. Soukup gave an assist to Donaldson who hit a treble before he drove to score again and see Rockets lead 82-78 with 4 minutes to go. Five unanswered points from Taylor gave Thunder the narrowest of leads but then a game changing referee decision saw Foulds fouled out on being called for an unsportsmanlike foul though the commentator, and by the relevant silence that fell over the Thunderdome, so did the majority of the Thunder fans, who thought Thunder captain Okoronkwo had fouled Foulds milli-seconds before in the same contest for the ball. Thunder scored from the free throws but Potter added more for Rockets who were one down with 2 minutes to go. Up steps Taylor again but again Potter finished a Soukup assist to leave the score 86-87 with 44.6 secs remaining. Thunder scored to lead by 3 and a big Hendricks treble effort was blocked by Okoronkwo and Thunder hit another penalty score to take the win 90-86.
A great battle with the result in the balance till the last few seconds. Noisy and appreciative crowd. The best of English basketball.
Top scorers for Rockets were Ed Potter with a double double of 17 pts and 11 rebounds, Tim Gill also with a double double of 16 pts., and 12 rebounds; Sydney Donaldson with 15 pts.; ,Jonny Foulds with 12 pts., and 3 steals and Declan Soukup with a double double of 10 pts., and 11 assist together with 5 rebounds in a great all round display.
After a very slow start and finding themselves 0-9 down in the opening exchanges thanks mainly to Thunder’s outstanding guard Zaire Taylor, Rockets slowly got into the game but were further adrift at the end of the first quarter by 8-20. Following a treble from Sydney Donaldson at the start of period two, Thunder plundered another 7-0 run to lead 27-11 causing Head Coach Manuel Pena Garces to call a time-out and regroup his team. And how they responded changed the whole complexion of the game as Rockets went on a 8-0 run and then another burst of 7-0 as Ali Sbai, Declan Soukup and Donaldson drained trebles though a Thunder treble in the last 30 seconds meant Rockets still trailed 30-35 at the interval.
Donaldson was at the heart of the action including some great floor hustle from which he managed to make a pass to Tim Gill to score. Gill had totalled ten points by the break and was imposing himself increasingly whilst defensively Rockets knew they had to get tighter on Thunder’s main threat, Taylor, who had amassed 19 points out of their 35. The half time instruction certainly brought results as Rockets powered their way through the third quarter by 29-11 including a 12-0 run giving Rockets a cushion as Soukup lit up the arena with three trebles and Jonny Foulds helping himself to one also. Taylor was harnessed with just 2 points and Rockets displayed some great team work as Foulds took a charge ( something of a regular occurrence with this brave young man ) and captain Danny Carter celebrated his birthday with dominance on the boards, a pair of dishes, a lay-up and one from the penalty stripe. Simas Raupys was also secure from the line as Rockets finished the period 59-46 ahead.
Donaldson again showed the effort needed to compete at this level as he rose high and determined to reach a rebound from a Carter treble attempt, making sure Rockets were not going to let Thunder back into the game. A 21-15 final quarter ensured Rockets came away with the victory though the most pleasing aspect for the coaching team was the improvement in performance and signs that after two competitive games, there was visual change with the offensive taking shape and the defence more certain leaving the impressive Taylor with no points in quarter four and only two in the second half. Gill helped himself to 11 personal points in this period and was the games’ leading scorer as Rockets won 80-61.
Top scorers for Rockets were Tim Gill with 25pts .and 8 rebounds; Declan Soukup with 16 pts., 6 rebounds and 3 steals and Sydney Donaldson with a double double of 15 pts., 12 rebounds to which he added 5 assists and a pair of steals.
Rockets now travel to newly promoted Team Newcastle next weekend in their first league encounter of the season.
In their first competitive game of the new season, Rockets new recruits (5) and young pretenders (5) showed much potential and promise though losing to south coast rivals Thunder in the National Trophy Pool game on Saturday night.
Rockets led for over 70% of the game but lost the lead in the crucial final quarter when new American signing Chris Hooper fouled out with the score at 66-65 in Rockets favour, Thunder turned the screw and edged the last 7 minutes to take the tie. Head Coach Manuel Pena Garces had much to cherish and saw much that gives him hope for the long season ahead. Hooper scored 1.5 points for every minute he was on court, made a pair of blocks but fell foul of the referees as he and his other American colleague, Craig Ponder re-adjust to the calls given this side of the pond. Ponder has only been to one full training session and one friendly game before experiencing the Thunderdome, from which Rockets coaching team are sure he’ll make a significant contribution to the season ahead.
Captain Danny Carter led from the front with major contributions in quarters two and three when he amassed 19 points as he and Hooper controlled the boards and dominated the paint, a sure area of much success to come with the two big men. New Spanish centre Dani Arcau was prominent with rebounds but didn’t get his offensive game going as he’d wish but these are early days. Ali Sbai, one of three Academy guys now plying their trade in the Senior team as they step up this season, was prominent taking down 8 rebounds, making 3 assists and a steal in a very promising game for the future for the young Brit. Most recent signing Juan Valerio hit three trebles to show his shooting prowess whilst Bulgarian U 20 Paulin Jardim showed his defensive attributes. Rockets 17 yo Spaniard Fidel Gomez hit the floor hard in the third period and didn’t return as he was taken to hospital to be checked over. He’s fine and will again be a key member of the new team. The third Academy player making the progression to the Senior team, Ibu Jassey Demba gave an assist and showed himself to be worthy of his place as returning Joel Keeble showed he had more confidence after an intensive summer programme for the shooting guard.
A 19-16 opening quarter and a half time single point lead of 41-40 reminded supporters that these south coast rivals games are always close encounters and this game was not to disappoint either. With Hooper scoring ten points in his first quarter in English basketball and Valerio hitting a trademark treble, Pena Garces and his new assistant, England U 16 Head Coach Alan Keane, saw much to please them even if the final quarter highlighted the importance of staying on the right side of the officials, especially to the new recruits. Rockets indiscipline had allowed Thunder to go to the free throw line 33 times compared with Rockets 13 visits with Thunder making 12 more successes than Rockets form here alone.
Even with just 44.7 seconds left Rockets were only trailing by 73-71 but when Thunder missed both free throws, Rockets failed to take the rebound and Thunder kept the ball for some 20 seconds before stroking a killer treble and effectively the game. This makes Worthing favourites to progress to the semi- final stage of the Trophy with Solent Stars the other team and league newcomers in the pool and who Rockets face at home in 2 weeks’ time on Saturday 2nd Oct.
Top scorers for Rockets were Chris Hooper with 22 pts, Danny Crater with 19 pts and both point guards Craig Ponder and Juan Valerio with 9 points each.