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Basketball: Leopards GM hails coaches and players

PUBLISHED: 13:00 12 February 2019

Sam Newman in action for Leopards

Sam Newman in action for Leopards

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Essex Leopards general manager Dave Ryan praised his club’s coaches and players after a pair of wins lifted them up to sixth place in the National League Division One table.

Asante Sandiford in action for LeopardsAsante Sandiford in action for Leopards

The Big Cats won 87-63 at Manchester Magic on Saturday and recorded a fourth win of the season over Reading Rockets (93-78) at Essex Sports Arena the next day.

Ryan said: “In the middle of November, with the team bottom of the league after losing our first five games I did wonder if we’d done the right thing by accepting a late promotion to Division One.

“But the way Tom [Baker], Roger and the team have turned things has been fantastic to watch.

“Even with additional signings, they’ve still coped with adversity and the loss of a couple of players, but 10 wins in the last 13 games is title-chasing form for half a season and instead of worring about relegation, we’re now looking at a place in the play-offs.

“This weekend showed the progress we’ve made because, after a long trip to Manchester on Saturday, we could easily have been sluggish with an early tip-off against Reading, but we gave another great 40-minute performance and thoroughly deserved the win.”

After winning the first two quarters by three points, a strong show in the second second half proved key in Manchester and a 13-2 run in the final five minutes ended any chance of a comeback from the young Magic side.

Captain Sam Newman led the way with 19 points and an impressive 13 assists, five rebounds and four steals.

Asante Sandiford also finished with 19 points, six rebounds and five assists, and Lee Hodges had a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double.

Darrell Bethune marked his first game for Leopards with 12 points and two steals in 20 minutes off the bench.

The next day saw Leopards outscore the visitors 25-14 in the second period to take control, and they never looked back as they wrapped up their 10th league win of the season.

Sandiford missed out on a rare triple-double by a single assist, with 13 rebounds and 29 points – 22 in the first half.

Newman had 16 points and eight assists, as Hodges and Findlay Wood each had eight rebounds to go with 15 and 10 points respectively.

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