Despite a poor shooting night, the Reading Rockets held strong on the defensive end, stifling the Wilmington Wildcats 51-32, improving their record to 2-1 on the young season Friday night in Wilmington.
Junior forward Drew Belcher led the way with 16 points and 7 rebounds for the Rockets, while sophomore Mike Algeri chipped in with 10 points.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 15-10 start in the first quarter, which was marked by forced shots and sloppy turnovers.
The Rockets, however, were able to regroup at the end of the first, and came out in a man-to-man full court press that seemed to speed up the game in their favor. The Wildcats finished with 17 turnovers, many of them in the second quarter cause by senior captain Nate Clarke, and junior Liam Kenneally.
Kenneally, who had missed the previous two games due to an injury suffered during his football season, proved to be just the spark the Rockets needed in the second quarter. Along with junior Andrew Bourque, the two forwards came off the bench to provide a much-needed defensive intensity that forced the Wildcats into a number of turnovers.
“The first thing both of them do is defend, and they did that tonight,” said Rocket head coach Paul Morrisey. “We got some nice offense from Andrew tonight, too, they both execute sets real well which is key.”
The improved defense held the Wildcats to just three points in the second quarter, giving the Rockets a 21-18 lead heading into halftime.
The second half featured much of the same for the Rockets as Morrisey decided to stick with his defensive unit for much of the third quarter that paved the way for their comeback in the first half.
Belcher was clearly the focal point of the offense in the second half, as Clarke (seven assists) continued to find the find the big man inside for post-up-mismatches. Belcher proved unstoppable as the Wildcats were forced to double-down on the big-man for most of the night, mostly resulting in defensive fouls that put the junior at the free-throw line.
“I don’t care if (Clarke) scores his points,” said Morrisey. “He just needs to be a facilitator and the second half he did a much better job of that.”
The collapsing Wildcat defense opened up the floor for the Rockets. The main beneficiary seemed to be Algeri, who constantly found himself free along the perimeter. The sophomore finished with three three-pointers on the night.
The Rockets will get to enjoy this one for a while, as the team will be off for the holiday season until December 28th when Reading will take on St. John’s Prep at 7 p.m. in Danvers.