By Jamie King
Rockets 78 v 81 Hemel Storm
Sunday evening saw the Rockets take on Hemel Storm in their third L Lynch Trophy matchup. Having won their games against Oaklands Wolves and Thames Valley Cavaliers, the Rockets were in great shape entering this fixture. Coming off the back of a tough loss against Team Solent Kestrels on Saturday, however, the Rockets had to battle both their opponents and their own fatigue in another close-fought match that ultimately ended in defeat for the team.
Tyler Cartaino made seven of Reading’s first nine points as the Rockets jumped out to an early lead. Despite Meshack Lufile recording two early blocks, both teams scored freely in the opening couple of minutes in a high-octane shootout. Disruptive defence from the Rockets forced a number of turnovers during the first quarter as they relentlessly pressured Hemel’s passes out of the pick and roll. Just as the Rockets looked to be building a strong lead, an impressive Hemel four-point play pinned the score back to 16-15 with two minutes left in Q1. Late inside plays from each team left the score at 21-18 to the Rockets going into the second quarter, with both teams showing impressive shot-making in the opening period.
The second quarter opened with some powerful plays inside from Hemel, with Tayo Oyefusi producing a strong dunk after blowing by Sam Toluwase on the wing. Never one to be outdone, though, Sam then showed great tenacity next time down the floor to grab his own rebound and put it home for a converted and-one that gave the Rockets a 24-23 lead. The speed of the game began to grind down the Rockets as the second period wore on, with missed transition layups allowing Hemel to inch into the lead. A Meshack tip-in and two Sam Toluwase free throws reduced the deficit to just two with three minutes left in the first half, the pair combining to keep the Rockets afloat just as they had in the previous day’s match against Solent. The Storm, though, driven by the multi-level scoring of Taylor Johnson which had produced 19 points in the first half, responded with a strong run to finish the quarter with a 41-32 advantage.
Both teams started the third quarter with offensive intent, an AJ Basi three kicking off a scoring spree for both teams that inflated the score to 47-37 only a couple of minutes into the period. Taylor Johnson continued to pour on the pressure, sharing Hemel’s scoring duties with Jonathan Lashley and draining a key triple in response to one from Jaz Bains. Facing a double-digit deficit, the Rockets flexed their collective clutch gene for yet another game. Buckets from Lewis Champion, Meshack and Tyler gave the Rockets some much-needed offensive momentum before a bold pull-up three courtesy of the sharpshooting AJ Basi closed the gap to eight going into the fourth at 50-58.
The fourth quarter opened with Hemel in the driver’s seat thanks to a barrage of threes. A tightly contested Jack Burnell three – his third of the period – left the Rockets trailing by 16 with time now firmly against them, but AJ Basi kept up his hot shooting to deliver eight points in the opening minutes of the quarter. With AJ’s shooting providing a lifeline to the team, Tyler Cartaino and Meshack contributed with layups of their own to bring the game within five points. With Hemel again asserting control and faced with a fastbreak in the closing three minutes of play, Reis Pinnock showed an incredible defensive effort to track back and climb the ladder for a stunning chase-down block. A smart assist from Tyler gave Sam Toluwase yet another bucket inside which he quickly compounded with a pair of free throws, keeping the score within six at 79-73 with under a minute left. Tyler then hit a pair of his own to leave the Rockets down four with ten seconds to go, but a bucket for Sam Newman would deliver the Rockets a fatal blow as time ran out, down six once more but with only four seconds to work with. After some last gasp free throws were exchanged, the time finally expired with the Rockets suffering a tough 81-78 loss.
Although a loss is, ultimately, a loss, not all are created equal; with just one night’s rest since a thrilling matchup against the defending champion Solent Kestrels, the Rockets had to dig deep and put on an impressive performance to cut Hemel’s 16 point lead in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the offensive consistency of Taylor Johnson, backed up by the efficient scoring of Jack Burnell and others, built too much of a lead for the Rockets to overturn after their slow second quarter. The Rockets put out a balanced offensive display with four players in double-digits and Jaz Bains one point shy with nine. AJ Basi hit 5/7 threes in big moments to keep the game close and Sam Toluwase worked hard in the paint with 19 pts and 12 boards on fantastic efficiency. Although it will frustrate both Coach Pearson and his players to come away with another close defeat, the offensive capability of this team was on full display for stretches of this game and was partnered with strong defensive intensity to mount a comeback in the fourth which ultimately secured top spot in the LLynch Trophy This will be played at Rivermead on Sun 17th Oct tipping at 5 pm.