GALLERY: Rockets scuttle Pirates to fire into play-offs
BASKETBALL: The atmosphere was electric as the Rockhampton Rockets fired into the QBL play-offs with a classy 11-point win on their home floor on Saturday night.
The Rockets looked sharp from the outset, signalling their intent from the get-go in the must-win game against the South West Metro Pirates.
The huge crowd willed them on the whole way, and erupted into a deafening roar when the final whistle sounded with the scoreboard 89-78 in the Rockets' favour.
Towering combo guard Malcolm Bernard set the game alight, proving a dominant force at both ends of the court.
He finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.
Fellow import Ray Willis was equally as impressive, leading the scoring with a game-high 28 points.
Rockets coach Neal Tweedy was excited to be in the hunt for another QBL title.
"It's great to make the play-offs, obviously. It's a big relief given we've lost two close ones at home over the last two weeks,” he said.
"We're in the same position that we were last year now. We feel like anyone can win from any position.
"We upset the top team last year and we're feeling there's no reason that we can't do that again.”
Tweedy said the Rockets' man-to-man defence was outstanding on Saturday, as was their rebounding.
"We do give up a lot of size, but tonight we gave up a lot of size and won the rebound count which we haven't been winning,” he said.
"Malcolm was huge, scoring and rebounding. He had a high efficiency rating. He played with four fouls there for most of the second half so he did well to stay out of foul trouble.
"Ray got going scoring-wise and I thought he was unguardable there for a while.
"Peni (Nasalo) came in and gave us some great defence and Leon (Christensen) was good.”
The Rockets have to wait on the result between Toowoomba and Gold Coast to determine whether they finish seventh or eighth and whether it is Mackay or Townsville they meet in the first week of the play-offs.
Whoever the opponent, Tweedy is confident about their chances given they have beaten some of the top teams already this season.
"The pleasing thing is we know we can play well. We know when we play well we can beat the top teams.
"We just have patches where we don't play well, like the first five minutes of the third quarter tonight.
"We know we've got to keep that consistency and when we play at that consistent level we can compete with anyone.
"It's just on the night you've got to shoot well and make plays and when you're playing loose you've got the ability to do that.
"There's no doubt we can go in and play loose against some of these teams where all the pressure's on them on their home floors in the play-offs.”
Tweedy said it a great achievement for the Rockhampton program, with both the Rockets and Cyclones advancing to the play-offs.