The Reading Rockets fell to 4-3 (3-2 Liberty), last night, after a hard fought battle with the Lexington Minutemen, who improved to 3-4 (2-3 Liberty) at Hawkes Field House in Reading Tuesday night.
While the Rockets have jumped out to a respectable start on the young season after graduating their two top-scorers from a year ago in Jerry Ellis-Williams and Kenny Reed, Tuesday night brought about a few key weaknesses that the Rockets will have to figure out if they hope to make post-season play for the sixth consecutive season.
Closing out three-point shooters: It was clear from the start that Reading head coach, Paul Morrisey, wanted to speed up the game in his team’s favor. Usually when teams want to speed up their opponent, whether it be because their athletic ability is weaker or what have you, a full-court press can do this effectively. The trap that many teams fall into when applying this full-court press is leaving wide-open shooters on the perimeter once their opponent is able to break the press.
This is what happened Tuesday night.
Lexington was successfully able to break Reading’s press early on in the first quarter in particular, forcing the Rocket defenders to rush back on defense, mixing up their defensive assignments, while leaving wide-open minutemen shooters along the perimeter. Harry O’Neil and Ben Gordon took advantage, each burying three three-pointers in the contest, as they accounted for 13 and 15 points, respectively.
Finding ways to score when PG Nate Clarke is on the bench: Anyone who has watched this Rocket team over the course of their first seven games, knows that the team goes as Nate Clarke goes. The senior point guard is off to a great start in his final year as a Rocket. While his scoring has been down, it is his playing making and defensive prowess that has stirred Reading to each of its four victories.
Tuesday night, however, Clarke was forced to the bench early after committing two quick fouls. While sophomore Mike Algeri (4 points, 4 assists) ran the point for a few possessions, Morrisey soon elected to insert junior James McHugh into the lineup as his primary ball-handler. While McHugh (2 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists) played well in stretches, and didn’t commit many turnovers, the Rockets offense was stymied. The Rockets weren’t able to find ways to get leading scorer, Drew Belcher (13.3 PPG coming into Tuesday night), the ball. While Belcher was huge down the stretch, eventually finishing with 25 points and 7 rebounds, it wasn’t enough to overcome a difficult first half. Reading finished with just six points in the second quarter, as Lexington headed into halftime with a 27-20 lead.
Zone Defense: Morrisey elected to change up his defensive coverage’s throughout the night, often switching from a 1-2-2 zone to a 2-3 zone, while mixing in some man-to-man defense. It wasn’t until the second half that the Rockets stuck with their man-to-man defense and forced the Minutemen into timely turnovers.
While scoring has been an issue for much of the season for Reading, it has been their defense that has kept them in games, and eventually won them. With stout defenders such as Clarke, Belcher, Liam Kenneally and Dominic DeSimone, not to mention the shot blocking threat of Belcher in the post, it is clear that the Rockets are at their best when these players can “D-up” their opponents man-to-man.
Headliners from Tuesday Night:
Belcher: 25 PTS, 7 REB
DeSimone: 9 PTS, 10 REBS