Double disappointment for Essex Leopards
PUBLISHED: 14:30 06 February 2017
Big Cats beaten at Hemel and Manchester
Levett Essex Leopards suffered double disappointment with losses against Hemel Storm and Manchesrer Magic at the weekend.
With captain Mike Martin still out of action with a foot injury, Leopards went down 88-83 in overtime at Hemel on Saturday, as Alex Scotland-Williamson tore his quad muscle when falling badly and suffered a season-ending injury.
The game was tied at 77-77 at the time and looked set to be abandoned as Scotland-Williamson waited for an ambulance, but he managed to slide off court to allow it to finish.
The long delay disrupted a Big Cats side who had dominated after the half-time break and Storm were able to close out a key win.
A terrible first half saw Scotland-Williamson, playing only his second game after joining last week, open the scoring before the home side set the tone with a 13-2 run.
Things didn’t get any better during the rest of the period as Leopards went into the first break 21-8 down and they were scoreless during the first two minutes of the second period to trail 27-8, before Dougie Bennett finally got them going.
Leopards were unable to make much impression on the deficit and despite Bennett’s shot late in the half, they went into the locker room 40-25 behind.
Scores from Roberts and Darrell Bethune saw Leopards open the second half strongly and they slowly closed the gap before a Roberts’ free-throw sent them into the fourth period trailing only 57-51.
A Bennett and-one halved that deficit with the opening play of the final quarter and a similar play from Roberts tied the game with two minutes gone before Justin Hitchman have them the lead with 6:54 left on the clock.
The rest of the period was nip and tuck, and Hemel went into the final minute 77-75 ahead, but Roberts hit a jump shot to tie the game with 43 seconds remaining.
During a frantic last few seconds the American guard had two chances to snatch the win, before the buzzer sent the game into overtime but after the loss of Scotland-Williamson, the Big Cats fell behind and saw the hosts open a five-point lead.
And despite a big trey from Roberts, who finished with 29 points, nine rebounds and six assists, the Storm held on for the victory, as Bennett and Bethune added 12 points apiece and Scott-Williamson pulled down eight rebounds before his premature exit.
A depleted and clearly tired Leopards matched high-flying Manchester for most of the following day’s match and even had a chance to take victory in the dying seconds, as Hitchman’s shot rimmed out and Roberts saw his attempted tip-in blocked.
Magic guard Stefan Gill hit six threes on the way to a 24-point game and was unguardable at times, before scoring the winning basket with 21 seconds left.
Jamie Hayes had opened the scoring with a dunk and Leopards led throughout the first period, before Caleb Tabiner sent them into the first break with a 25-18 lead.
A pair of Tabiner baskets saw that lead grow to nine early in the second period and Leopards’ lead peaked at 10 with 81 seconds of the half remaining on a Shaq Lewis lay-up.
Magic finished the half strongly to cut Leopards’ lead to 48-43 and the hosts continued that run as they hit the first five points of the second half to tie the game.
There was little to choose between the sides as they went into the final break tied at 62, before Bethune opened the fourth period with a long jump shot, but the lead continued to change hands before a three-point play from Hayes put his side 85-83 ahead going into the final 100 seconds.
A massive trey from Gill put his side ahead, only to see Hitchman hit a pair at the foul line and Roberts put Leopards 89-86 ahead with 50 seconds remaining.
But it was clearly Gill’s night as he hit a seemingly impossible three off a dribble and, although Roberts put his side ahead by one with a free-throw with 30 seconds left, Gill then hit the winner.
Bethune finished with 19 points, while Roberts had 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
Hitchman recorded a season-high 13 points, with Bennett adding 10 and Perry Lawson eight as all nine Leopards got on the scoresheet.
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