With Rivermead unavailable Rockets played this game at their training and academy venue, The John Madejski Academy. Two of the young Academy students played major roles in this vital win that sees Rockets up to 5th place in the league, as 16 yo David Chive made a steal with just 4.6 secs remaining and then hit both free throws in an ice cool manner to see Rockets secure the game. Arinze Emeka Anyakwo had his best game at this level by far as he knew before tip that captain Danny Carter was side-lined with his ongoing back strain so put in the performance of his Senior season as he top scored with 22 points and was a major trouble to Cavaliers from tip to buzzer.
With both teams playing the night before and not getting back till the early hours of Sunday, both Head Coaches would have been conscious of tiredness and concentration maybe creeping in as the game progressed but neither had any such worries as the game was extremely tight from tip to the last play which quarter differences of just 1, 2, 1 and 3 show. The opening 10 points were shared as Emeka Anyakwo hit 5 of them before A J Carr stroked a big treble and added 6 personal points but having had a 17-9 lead Rockets had a 13-4 reversal to be adrift 21-22 at the end of the quarter.
Period 2 began with the lead being swapped by virtually each offense. Sydney Donaldson and Trae Pemberton stroked trebles as the game hotted up and Tanner Kuehn was secure from the penalty stripe. A Cavaliers tip in with the last play saw Rockets ahead but just by 40-38.
Some strong defence helped Rockets to extend their advantage at the start of the third period whilst Pemberton and Chive were on the money beyond the arc. Within 4 minutes of the re-start Rockets enjoyed their best lead of double figures at 50-40 but Cavaliers hit back with a 15-5 run to draw level on 55 apiece before Donaldson hit a free throw to see Rockets go into the final stanza with a single point lead of 56-55.
Cavaliers took the early lead before Donaldson struck a treble but the game was soon tied on 59. A Cavaliers treble, one of just 2 successful ones during the whole game for them, edged them ahead and with 2 minutes 20 sec to go Rockets were 3 down. An assist from Carr to Emeka-Anyakwo saw him draw Rockets level on 66 with a key treble. Carr scored inside with 1.06 left but Cavaliers had possession. Rockets stopped them scoring and then and having had a shot rim out, Rockets needed another stop. And how they did it as 16 yo Chive made a steal and held on to the ball as he was fouled. With huge confidence the youngster hit both free throws to give Rockets a virtually unassailable 4 point advantage with just 1.9 secs on the clock. Cavaliers hit a single point but the sweet victory belonged to Rockets 70-67 and a rise of 2 places up the league table to 5th with just 4 games remaining, the final 2 being at Rivermead on 24th and 31st March.
Top scorers for Rockets were Arinze Emeka-Anyakwo with 22 pts and 6 rebounds ably assisted by A J Carr with 16 pts and 7 rebounds coupled to 4 assists and 3 steals. Trae Pemberton had recovered enough to score 15 pts, take down 7 rebounds and make 3 assists with Sydney Donaldson nearly having a double double with 8 pts and 10 rebounds.
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Not being able to play at Rivermead was a huge disappointment to the players and management of Rockets so the John Madejski Academy sports hall hosted this crucial semi- final. With captain Danny Carter getting out of a sick bed to shirt up, Ronan O’Sullivan still out with a long term hand injury, Adrian O’Sullivan needing at least another week before returning to training with an ankle injury and then Sam Grant wearing a surgical boot from an injury picked up yesterday, Head Coach Alan Keane knew he’d be heavily dependent on his two Americans, one other senior, new signing Tanner Kuehn ( who arrived at Rockets Thursday evening ) and the Academy young men. As courageous as Rockets were, even leading by 7 points early in the second period, a barrage of four trebles and a stronger in depth team saw Riders lead by 7 at the interval, a lead they were never going to relinquish for the remainder of the game.
The opening quarter with Rockets 18-13 became 35-42 by the break with the game having been tied 3 times and with both teams being restricted by the other to scoring runs that didn’t exceed 7 whilst Rockets biggest lead was 7 pts., and Riders just 8 pts., such was the competition to secure a place in the National Trophy final . Riders were coming off victory in the National Cup Final last Sunday when they beat the league’s top side Solent Kestrels by 19 pts so were oozing with confidence despite being on the wrong end of a league loss at Rockets hands just 5 weeks ago in Reading.
The third quarter was the defining period for Riders as they extended their advantage to 13 pts at 63=50 with 3 more trebles and only Trae Pemberton and A J Carr scoring for Rockets. The final stanza opened with A J just not having the rub of the ring, Riders scoring and Carter being called for his fourth foul. Within 3 minutes of the restart both Rockets big men A J Carr and Danny Carter were excluded as having received 5 personal fouls each and now the game was probably truly against Rockets . Nonetheless Pemberton continued to encourage the Academy guys and Sydney Donaldson hit 4 from 4 from the free throw line. Tanner Kuehn had hit a treble as his first Rockets points and hit a jumper but three consecutive trebles from Riders saw them a safe distance ahead as Rockets depleted team just couldn’t reduce the deficit and the game ended 91-66 in Riders favour.
Both Rockets Americans had again been outstanding as A J Carr hit 23 pts., 7 rebounds and 4 assists and Trae Pemberton 15 pts., 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals. Rockets other leading scorers were Danny Carter with 7 pts as did Sydney Donaldson.
Rockets now prepare for a return to Rivermead next Saturday