By Jamie King
Reading Rockets 99 Leicester Warriors 54
With two close defeats hanging over the team from the previous weekend, the Rockets’ first game back at Rivermead Leisure Centre this year signaled an opportunity for Coach Pearson’s men to come out and show their resilience with a big win against a talented Leicester Warriors side. Displaying brilliant defensive intensity and shotmaking, the Rockets left it all on the court in a dominant performance from start to finish which ended in a resounding — victory.
An action-packed first quarter saw the Rockets jump out to a commanding lead early. AJ Basi and Tyler Cartaino got the scoring underway with a three and dunk respectively, establishing a five-point lead which would hold strong throughout the quarter. Meshack Lufile got an early block to cement his blossoming reputation as a key inside deterrent, contributing to a stout defensive showing in the early exchanges of the quarter. Halfway through the quarter, Leicester’s Ellis Haggith rattled home a key three pointer to complement an inside score, closing the Rockets’ lead to 15-11. Coach Pearson will have been pleased with the Rockets’ response to this brief period of Warriors momentum, as the team clammed up on the defensive end and began forcing tough shots and making key steals. Their energy was evident on the offensive boards too, where Sam Toluwase made his presence known with a dominant right-handed dunk off his own miss before AJ Basi closed out the quarter with a steal at halfcourt and emphatic alley-oop to Cartaino. With a 26-15 advantage, the Rockets were in great shape at the end of first and deservedly so, showing fantastic energy on both ends of the court.
The Rockets’ hustle was just as evident entering the second period, with stifling defense the order of the day from all Coach Pearson’s men. Jaz Bains made back-to-back threes early in the quarter to kickstart the offense. With the Rockets sharing out the minutes very evenly among the whole roster, their pass-first team basketball was on display throughout the second quarter. Patient ballhandling from Ben Dixon and Reis Pinnock kept the ball moving and allowed the Rockets to work a number of good looks with intelligent skip and entry passes, helping the Rockets to build a commanding lead which ballooned to a 20-point cushion as the second quarter wore on. More activity on the boards from Meshack late in the quarter gave the Rockets some easy buckets, ensuring that even a late three from Leicester’s Haggith couldn’t break the 20 point stranglehold which the Rockets had established. A late bucket from Cartaino saw his point total rise to 17 for the half and put the Rockets at 53-30 going into the break.
Showing no signs of slowing, the Rockets came out firing in the third quarter with Meshack providing two early scores that established the foundations of an 13-3 run which included yet another Jaz Bains three. Ellis Haggith made one himself to stop the bleeding for Leicester, but their respite was short-lived as Reis Pinnock connected from deep to extend the lead to 69-36. KV Live maintained pressure on the offensive glass as the third came to a close, earning a putback for himself and a short jumper for Lufile, before both KV and sixteen year-old Isaac Round hit their first threes of the game to push the lead ever-closer to 40. Another Reis Pinnock three saw a dominant third quarter end with the Rockets cruising at 84-36.
With the game essentially decided, the fourth quarter proved a slower affair for the Rockets. Scoreless through the first three minutes, Isaac Round again came through with a deep triple and tough contested layup to keep the scorers busy as the teams traded baskets in a low-scoring fourth period. Coach Pearson took the opportunity to throw all the Rockets’ young talent on the floor, with Ash Kitchen joining Ronnie Oguekwe, KV Live and Isaac Round on the floor alongside Reis Pinnock to marshal the team. The confidence of the academy players, who were each treated to considerable minutes in this game, was on show in the closing minutes and will give Coach Pearson great belief in the depth of the squad going forwards, with Ash Kitchen’s late contributions ensuring that all Reading players earned 10 minutes of time on the hardwood.
With a final score of 99-54, Reading put on a clinic in their first game at Rivermead this season. Contributions from across the roster were highlighted by Tyler Cartaino’s first-half scoring and the hustle plays of Sam Toluwase and KV Live, who combined for eight offensive rebounds. With a team line of 50% from the field and 34% from three, Coach Pearson will be thrilled with the efficiency his players produced – though a 43% mark from the free throw line shows that there is always room for improvement. With a convincing win under their belts, the Rockets can move forwards with renewed confidence as they look to tally up some more victories in the coming weeks.