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Essex Leopards look to make changes

PUBLISHED: 11:30 07 November 2016

Jamie Hayes attacks the basket for Essex Leopards

Jamie Hayes attacks the basket for Essex Leopards

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Coach Ogunjimi considering options

Essex Leopards coach Steve Ogunjimi Essex Leopards coach Steve Ogunjimi

Levett Essex Leopards look set to ring the changes before Friday’s clash with Reading Rockets at the Brentwood Centre (8pm).

After their National Cup exit the previous weekend, the Big Cats produced a better performance on Saturday despite going down 83-70 at league leaders Derby Trailblazers.

But their fans can expect to see new players in their line-up on Friday and coach Steve Ogunjimi said: “The season is far from a write-off but clearly things have to change.

“When we put this team together in the summer we had high hopes that we could win things, but for whatever reason it hasn’t worked.

“It’s disappointing and it’s hard to say goodbye to people but we still have a lot to play for and if we’re going to make changes, it makes sense that we do it now.

“I know the team went 1-4 in the season they won the treble, so clearly it can be done. We just need to move sooner rather than later if we’re going to have a successful season.”

A good start at Derby on Saturday proved insufficient as the Big Cats slipped to their fourth defeat of the Division One season.

Ryan Lascelles gave the home side the lead, before scores from Mike Martin and Dave Ajumobi put Leopards 4-2 ahead, and Ladi Brown sunk a trey off AJ Roberts’ assist to put the visitors 9-2 up.

A triple from Dougie Bennett, followed by a Martin lay-up, saw Leopards’ lead peak at 16-5, but only Martin scored for the visitors in the second five minutes of the period as they went into the first break tied at 21-21.

Jamie Hayes had arguably his best game for the Big Cats and opened the second period with a trey and kept his side within a point at 33-32 with four minutes left, before Derby closed out the half strongly to go into the locker room leading 38-33.

The third period proved to be the killer for the visitors as Derby opened with a 9-0 run, and although Martin stopped the rot they trailed by as many as 19 before another Hayes three-pointer cut the deficit to 64-46 at the final break.

Martin opened the fourth period scoring but, although the veteran big man got the deficit down to eight with 5:34 on the clock, the home side held on to maintain their perfect start to the season.

Martin top scored for the visitors, adding eight rebounds to his 18 points, with Brown finishing on 11 points and both Bennett and Hayes adding 10.

The Big Cats will face a Reading side who are also looking to bounce back after a weekend in the north that saw them lose against Team Northumbria and Bradford Dragons.

Despite another summer of heavy recruitment, including the signing of two Americans and several Spanish players, the Rockets are currently 1-3 in league play, while a loss against Worthing in the National Trophy saw them finish second in the group stage.

They have reached the National Cup quarter-final with wins as Cardiff and Hemel, and travel to Kent Crusaders in the last eight.

The Rockets are the Big Cats oldest rivals with the sides having met nearly 50 times in 13 seasons.

There have been plenty of thrillers between the teams, with Leopards’ National Cup final success in December 2005 probably the most notable, and last season was no exception.

A buzzer-beating three from Dave Ajumobi took Rockets into overtime in October’s National Trophy meeting at the Brentwood Centre, and his side went on to win in the extra period.

But both league games went Leopards’ way as they finished strongly to win by four points in the final minute of the game.

The play-off encounter at Rivermead looked set to go the same way, before a dominant fourth period saw the hosts run out 20-point winners.

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