THE Rockhampton Rockets' quest to become the first Queensland Basketball League (QBL) team to win three straight championships is over.
And it fell away rapidly in the second half on the back of poor shooting and losing the aerial rebound battle against a powerful Port City Power at Hegvold Stadium on Saturday night.
The Rockets went down in the must-win quarter-final 94-86. What was most disappointing was the Rockets' second half effort after an early dominance. They won the first quarter 24-18 and were just ahead at half time 42-40. Then the game changed. The Rockets started missing their shots and were unable to clean up the resulting rebounds.
Gladstone's height hurt the smaller Rockets who could not outreach Port's big men Illawa Baldwin and Justin Baker. With Port's Ray Willis and Michael Cedar on fire, scoring three-pointers at will, while the Rockets struggled to drop any, the local team had no answers. They slipped behind Gladstone at three-quarter time by five points 64-59 as their season slipped away as well.
Prior to the match, Rockets' co-captain Brad Williamson spoke about the importance of the Rockets playing a strong rebound game. He said when this happened, the Rockets played well, when it didn't, they slumped. And that is precisely what occurred.
Rockets coach Neal Tweedy reinforced this, saying a poor offensive effort meant they had to win the rebounds.
"If you shoot poorly, as we did, especially in the second half, you have to win the rebounds. We didn't do that either and it cost us," Tweedy said.
"There is always a lot of pressure in these knockout games. And we added to that pressure, we put more pressure on ourselves by not making our shots. There is no doubt offensively we were not at our best. We just didn't make enough shots."
This was particularly true in the third quarter. Despite Chehales Tapscott opening the second half with a confident three-pointer, it quickly dried up. The Rockets had lifted their intensity and were constantly on the attack, but nothing was dropping. When the ball rebounded, it did so mostly to Gladstone's tall timber.
The Rockets' bombardment of Gladstone's basket was constant. So much so, that even if less than half of the three-pointers which didn't drop, had of, the Rockets would have buried Gladstone then and there. The game would have been theirs.
"Gladstone are a very good team and they played well," Tweedy said.
"Their height did hurt us because we just didn't score enough points to stay ahead and we let them right back into the match."