Essex Leopards coach Baker wants his side to finish strongly

Essex Leopards Findlay Wood in action against Derby Trailblazers (Pic: Paul Phillips)

Essex Leopards Findlay Wood in action against Derby Trailblazers (Pic: Paul Phillips) - Credit: Archant

As Essex Leopards prepare to host Thames Valley Cavaliers at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday (4pm), coach Thomas Baker is looking for his side to finish the league season strongly.

“Recent results haven’t gone our way but we are still in the hunt for a play-off position and it is important we keep fighting to ensure we finish this season strongly,” Baker said.

“Playing the last two games of the year at the Brentwood Centre is massive for us.

“To give our home fans something to cheer about and for them to get behind the team is important for us to build momentum as we look for a solid finish to the season.

“I am looking forward to seeing our fans and the guys are excited to step out on our home court again.”

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Having been promoted last season, Cavaliers have made an excellent start to life in the top flight, and will go into the weekend in fourth spot with a 14-8 record and home court advantage in the play-offs virtually guaranteed.

Robert Banks’ side have been a thorn in Leopards’ side over the last couple of seasons, winning all five games between the clubs.

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Leopards will again be running their pre-game coaching clinic with forward Asante Sandiford and other players.

A good start wasn’t enough for Leopards at Bradford Dragons as they went down 100-85, on Sunday.

The home side had seen their place in Division One next assured as other results went their way the previous night, and they celebrated with an ultimately comfortable win against the Big Cats.

A Lee Hodges lay-up put capped a 7-0 run by the Big Cats to give them a 22-12 lead with 100 seconds remaining in the first quarter, but the home side replied with a 16-4 tear to take control of the game.

Asante Sandiford led the visitors with 20 points before fouling out with three minutes remaining, while Findlay Wood added 19 points, four rebounds and three assists.

Hodges finished with 18 points eight rebounds before joining Sandiford on the bench following a technical foul, with Sam Newman and Chuck During adding 11 points apiece.

But the Big Cats had little answer to American Ricky Fetske who finished with a 30 point, ten rebound double-double, adding six assists in a 40 minute performance.

A Hodges and-one saw Leopards open the scoring. and Hodges scored seven of the visitors’ first ten points, with Wood draining a trey before scores from Newman and Duru put them 14-7 ahead.

Duru scored from downtown before Hodges took his personal tally to 11 as Leopards went into the first break with a 22-16 lead.

Rory Winter kept the visitors ahead but a 7-0 run capped by Lycoudis’ trey saw Dragons take their first lead of the game at 26-24.

The rest of the half was nip and tuck as Wood’s outside shooting kept the Big Cats in touch, and Sandiford beat the clock with a jump shot to reduce Bradford’s lead to 47-43 going into the locker room.

Thomas Baker’s team started the second half well as Duru opened the scoring, and a trey from Newman followed by a pair of Wood baskets tied the game at 52.

But back-to-back Fetske baskets in a 8-0 run saw the Dragons take control again, and while Wood again scored from the Land of Plenty and Neman dunked to make it a three point game, Bradford finished the period strongly to lead 74-66 at the final break.

That lead grew to 14 before Newman broke the drought three minutes into the final period, but with Lycoudis twice scoring from three-point land, Dragons’ lead never dipped into single digits as they closed out the win.

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