Essex Leopards look to get back on track
12:30 23 September 2016
Big Cats face National Trophy test at London Lituanica
Levett Essex Leopards will look to get their National Trophy campaign back on track when they travel to London Lituanica on Sunday.
The Newham-based side hammered Westminster Warriors 94-69 in their opening game in the competition, while the Big Cats suffered a heart-breaking 69-68 home loss against Hemel Storm.
And Steve Ogunjimi’s side know they must win on Sunday to retain an interest in the competition, after a thrilling 71-68 win at Brentwood when the teams met last season.
The away side went home happy on both occasions when the sides clashed in the league.
Poor foul shooting cost the Big Cats in their first competitive game of the season against the Storm last Friday.
Ogunjimi’s side converted just 10 of 24 visits to the free-throw line and, despite 14 more field-goal attempts and forcing nine more turnovers than Storm, a Leon Henry buzzer-beating three consigned them to defeat.
David Ajumobi appeared to have made the perfect return to the Leopards when he drove to the basket and scored with 3.2 seconds remaining to put his side 68-66 ahead.
Justin Hitchman led the Big Cats with 15 points, with Mike Martin adding 14 and Ladi Brown 12.
Martin marked his return to the club after 15 years away by opening the scoring from the free-throw line and a Brian Nguru trey capped a 6-0 start.
That was as good as it got for the hosts, as Hemel wrapped up the first period with a 7-2 run to take a 17-16 lead.
Five Ajumobi points helped his side tie the game at 25-25 midway through the second period and five Hitchman points followed by a Brown basket sent them into half-time with a 36-34 lead.
Leopards’ woes at the foul line were particularly prevalent in the third period as they scored just two of 10 attempts.
And with Jack Burnell - whose father Jon coached the Big Cats for six years - hitting eight straight points midway through the quarter, the visitors went into the final break with a 52-48 lead.
A second trey of the game from Hitchman gave Leopards a 53-52 lead early in the fourth period and Martin tied the game at 61-61 going into the final two minutes.
A three-point play from Martin set up the grandstand finish, before Henry - who appeared to travel before the shot - broke home hearts.
The Big Cats are in the process of signing two guards to complete their squad and, with Martin resting a sore knee, found London Lions too strong in Saturday’s friendly as they went down 95-52 at the Brentwood Centre.
The home side matched the Lions in the early stages, but tired down the stretch after the previous night’s game as their full-time opponents took advantage.
Ajumobi and Hitchman led the home side with 10 points apiece.