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Magic outlast Rockets to seal second spot

  Saturday, March 25, 2017

Manchester Magic ended the regular season with a hard-earned 75-71 win over Reading Rockets to take second place in Basketball England’s NBL Division One.

With Team Northumbria having already wrapped up the title, and both Magic and Rockets sitting on identical 20-5 records going into the contest, the game was a decider for runners-up honours.

The sides traded blows in the early stages, with Christopher Hooper doing much of the damage for Reading, but when he picked up his third foul after just three minutes of the second quarter, Hooper went to the bench and the game opened up for Magic.

The home side capitalised by taking a 17-point advantage early in the third quarter, thanks largely to the tenacity of Simon Anumba, who finished with a game-high 21 points.

However, Juan Valerio Rojas scored eight quick points in a 13-2 run for visitors to bring them back to within six points going into the final quarter. The momentum continued with Reading, with American guard Craig Ponder helping to snatch a 54-52 lead early in the fourth.

This seemed to spark Magic back into life, as their offence recovered from its slump in the shape of some big three-pointers from Jack Minister and Stefan Gill. By contrast, Rockets were struggling shooting the ball from range, making just three of their first 24 attempts from behind the arc.

When Magic’s Kayin Darbey drilled a three of his own to make the score 70-63 with just over a minute remaining, the Rockets’ valiant comeback looked to be over. Reading skipper Danny Carter had other ideas. He made three big shots in a row, including a very tough triple that brought the score back to 72-71 with less than 20 seconds to go.

Reading swiftly fouled Duane Morgan, who made one of his two free throws. Ponder then saw his subsequent lay-up attempt roll around the basket and agonising back out. Lee Goldsbrough grabbed the critical rebound and was instantly fouled, and the big man kept his nerve to make both free throws and seal the win for Magic.

Magic captain Minister commented: “It’s happened to us a few times at home where we’ve had a lead and we’ve let the other team come back in, but it’s a good learning process for us and we didn’t let them control the game in the end.

“I think sometimes when it doesn’t go well for us offensively it affects us defensively where really we need to just get our focus back to playing defence, because when we get stops and we run, that’s when we’re at our best.”

Magic have secured home court for the playoffs and could yet meet the Rockets again in the semi-finals, but they will first meet the team that finishes in seventh place. This will be against Bradford Dragons on Saturday 1st April at 6:30pm.

When asked about Magic’s post-season prospects, Minister added: “I want a re-match with Northumbria, but to get there we’re going to have to play some good teams.

“I’m not sure who we’re going to be seeded against but the key for us is that it’s home court advantage and when we play at home we’re tough to beat. We’re going to go in with some serious confidence when we’re playing at home.”

Report by Graeme Roberts

OUR NEWS

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