Before this top of the table clash , Rockets got the most disappointing news from the hand specialist that their influential guard A J Carr had suffered a season ending double fracture in the last training session before Christmas. A J was obviously mortified and in shock but had planned to return home for Christmas whilst Academy guard Sam Grant, the G.B U18 also had his back diagnosis ……three slipped vertebrae leaving Head Coach Alan Keane with much to ponder before the game and certainly over the break.
With his British passport now sorted 18 yo Kelsey Espeut shirted up for Rockets who scored the first points through Matias Boho before Hemel responded. Ben Dixon stroked the first of his five trebles and Boho made a fake move to score. The importance of the game wasn’t lost on anyone in the sports centre and the teams were level on 7, 9 and 12 as trebles were exchanged ( Rockets coming from the influential guard Nick Richards ). A Richards assist to captain Ed Potter coupled to an inside score from the small forward encouraged the academy players now making up 50% of the team though a dubious call which Rockets supporters saw as a great strip by 18 yo David Chive was given as a foul from which Hemel scored seeing them to a 26-18 advantage at the first break.
Liam Davis opened Rockets account at the start of the second period with a hook shot but a fluky treble glanced off the glass saw Hemel increase their lead to 33-21 but a Richards assist to Dixon saw the Aussie excellent beyond the arc. When Richards made a steal, one of seven during the game, he went coast to coast to slam dunk and reduce Rockets deficit to just four points at 29-33. A Potter spin and finish was accompanied by another Richards drive and spin score as Rockets got within a single score of Hemel but yet again a very, very tough call against the resurgent visitors saw Hemel at the line. A Richards rejection, assist to Dixon, and drive through the eye of a needle kept Rockets close at 36-38 and though Hemel were secure from the penalty line it was an electrically fast tracking back by Richards that made a stop and saw Rockets closer to Hemel at 38-44 at the interval having taken the quarter 20-18.
Storm’s shooting prowess beyond the arc had given them the advantage but Richards and Dixon matched them in this third period though Rockets missed four consecutive lay-ups which saw Hemel back with a double digit lead for most of the time and though a Davis slam dunk and Richards drive brought the quarter to an end Rockets found themselves adrift by 53-63 as the final quarter beckoned.
Richards was fighting the good fight throughout the game as he put in an outstanding performance. Hemel just couldn’t stop the American even fouling him in an unsportsmanlike fashion as they tried to stop his personal onslaught. Though they failed in that, five trebles in the final quarter by the sharp shooting Hertfordshire team, saw Hemel take the win at 91-75. This leaves Rockets in joint third place in the league but four consecutive Sunday afternoon home games at Rivermead to start their 2020 campaign, including a crucial National Cup semi -final on 19th January , will left the Berkshire team as they seek one of the three trophies on offer this season.
Top scorers for Rockets were the outstanding Nick Richards who led all scorers with 31 pts, 7 rebounds, 7 steals and 4 assists as Ben Dixon hit 15 pts, Ed Potter 11 points and Liam Davis with 10 pts and 8 rebounds. Rockets begin their New Year by hosting Westminster Warriors who beat them in the opening league game of the season.
|21/12/2019||19:00||NBL Div 1||2019 / 2020|
|Hemel Hempstead Leisure Centre|
|Hemel Hempstead Leisure Centre 45A Park Rd, Hemel Hempstead HP1 1JS, UK|