19 points from Marquis Mathis and a strong 4th quarter showing were enough to push 6th seed Team Solent past Reading Rockets to an upset win on Sunday afternoon. After struggling over the final few weeks with a depleted roster, the Rockets couldn’t get it done on a day when they needed to be at their best against a quality opponent.
The early going was relatively even as both teams settled into the game but a 14-4 run by the visitors allowed them to push in front 22-17 after the 1st. Despite points from Craig Ponder and Fidel Gomez, Reading continued to fall behind as Solent’s advantage moved into double digits. With Chris Scarlett and Mathis both getting into a grove for the Kestrels, Reading did well to battle back in the contest and narrow the gap to 43-39 at the break.
It was a reinvigorated effort from the hosts to start the 2nd half as despite their limited numbers the Rockets burst into action. Tying the game at 56-56 midway through the quarter meant both teams were back to square one but for Reading it did come at a cost as big man Chris Hooper found himself in foul trouble that would limit his involvement the rest of the way. Still, the home side managed to move into a lead of their own after 30 minutes, up 60-56 with everything to play for.
The final quarter was all one-way traffic though as time and again the Kestrels found a way to score, taking the game away from the Rockets in quick time. Once again establishing their double digit lead, Solent wouldn’t let this one slip away and after taking the final period 31-11, the South Coast side had booked their place in the #FinalFours.
Reading’s lack of depth was well highlighted as they fielded just 7 players in the fixtures whilst their opponents managed to get six players into double digits in scoring. Hooper was also sorely missed as the Kestrels outrebounded their opponents 44-30.
Reading's Chris Hooper (red kit) and Solent's Marquis Mathis battle in the low post - Mirrorbox Studios
Reigning playoff champions Manchester Magic used a fast start and some controlled play in the 3rd quarter to continue their hold over Bradford Dragons.
Jack Minster was the architect of Manchester’s fast start to the game, nailing four shots from deep as the hosts ran out to an 18-0 lead that understandably led to an early Bradford time out. The 1st quarter may have belonged to the Magic but the 2nd certainly went the way of the Dragons. With Ricky Fetske back in the mix after an injury, Bradford began to click and a 20-4 run of their own meant the visitors were back in contention despite still trailing 40-35 at the half.
Any momentum built in the 2nd quarter was firmly extinguished by Manchester as the game progressed. Simon Anumba’s reintroduction from the bench was enough to kick start the Magic’s offence and before long the game was getting away from Bradford. With Anumba pouring in 11 of his 20 points in the 3rd, Kayin Derby was also causing problems for the visitors with his ability to drive and distribute. Having eased off in the 1st half, Manchester didn’t make the same mistake twice and played out a professional final 10 minutes to book their place in the next round.
After the final buzzer, Coach Middleton didn’t have too much to grumble about from his side, “Overall, I’m happy. That second quarter was disappointing, but at the same time they’re a good team offensively. They’re always going to give someone that kind of trouble in at least one of the quarters. There’s still stuff to improve on, especially defensively, but I’m confident, and the players should be. I think people are starting to step up at the right time, which is what we need.”
Loughborough managed to pull out a repeat of their final game of the regular season as they once against took a trip to Derby before beating them on their own court. A Josh Ward-Hibbert double-double of 12 points and 10 boards for the Riders was a tough pill to swallow against his former club who only managed to get 2 players into double digits on the score board.
The visitors had no such problems with Richardson, Roberts, Noel and Christofis all joining Ward-Hibbert in passing the 10-point mark. That level of scoring allowed the Riders to dominate before the half and a 22-9 2nd quarter meant a 41-27 score line to Loughborough at the break.
Faced with the prospect of elimination if they didn’t manage to force a turnaround, Derby went on the offensive after the restart. A number of drives inside by Matt Ward-Hibbert led to points and in turn forced the Riders defence to collapse. Capitalising on that, both Kayne King and Chris Taylor connected from deep and a 17-12 3rd left the score at 53-44 Loughborough heading into the 4th. With more of the same required in the final 10 minutes, it never materialised. The Riders once again took command and never offered a way back into the game for the Trailblazers.
“It was a disappointing end to the season because we didn't perform close to our best at all,” rued Derby Head Coach Matt Shaw. “The guys are gutted and we love to have another crack- but that's play-off basketball. Riders did a great job dictating the tempo and really prevented us from playing the way we wanted, credit to them for sure. We had way too many turnovers today. We also took way fewer shots than Loughborough and as a result, we made things really difficult for ourselves.”
Derby's Matt Ward-Hibbert (black kit) tries to find a way past his brother Josh (right side) - Alan Mousley/AGM Pics
Hemel couldn’t ride their solid form to end the regular season into the playoffs as top ranked Team Northumbria handled them with ease on Sunday. 33 points from Malcolm Smith helped power the hosts in a game where Hemel struggled to get going.
Setting out their stall early, the top seeds stretched out a double digit lead as the 1st quarter concluded. With Smith, Lewis Champion and Blayne Freckleton all starting brightly, it was tough work from there for Hemel. Still, they dug deep and 11 points in the 2nd quarter from Jack Burnell provided the Storm with a way back into the game. Unable to find much luck inside, guard Burnell scored 3 times from deep before Nick Allin joined the party with a late three of his own to narrow the score up to 45-41 Northumbria at the half.
Unhappy with their efforts before the break, the D1M champs came out and blitzed their opponents in a high scoring 3rd quarter. Managing 25 points of their own, Hemel tried to keep up but 34 points from the hosts was too much to take. With Smith once again taking centre stage, the American enjoyed 10 points in the quarter, adding 3 assist and a couple of boards for good measure. The flow of points slowed in the final quarter but the team scoring them didn’t change. Winning the final frame 15-9, it was the end of a long day for Hemel as they were never allowed to find their groove.
Restricted to just 26 points in the paint, Team Northumbria limited Hemel’s looks and with it their potential to grab an upset. Uncharacteristically, the Storm were also out rebounded 43-31. Credit to Coach Steutel for that game plan as Team Northumbria were able to control one of the more physical offences in the league to set up a home tie with Loughborough in the #FinalFours.
Hemel Head Coach David Allin said, "Of course it's disappointing to lose but we knew we had to be at our absolute best to win today and we only achieved that for short periods of the game. Northumbria did a good job in stifling our offence and out-rebounded us which has been a strength of ours. The better team won today.”