Leopards look to bounce back at Brentwood
PUBLISHED: 09:00 02 October 2015
Big Cats suffer first losses under Ogunjimi
Levett Essex Leopards will look to bounce back when they host Reading Rockets at the Brentwood Centre tonight (Friday, 8pm), after suffering a pair of narrow losses last weekend.
Steve Ogunjimi’s side need a win to get their National Trophy campaign back on track after a pair of four-point defeats, but will face a tough test against big-spending rivals.
Rockets have brought in American pair D’Montre Edwards and Antonio Robinson, as well as out-bidding the Big Cats for British forward Dave Ajumobi and keeping key big man Danny Carter who scored 67 points in their two most recent wins.
Reading have won all four games this season, although they were taken to overtime by new boys Lancashire Spinners on Sunday.
The three games between Leopards and Rockets were all thrillers last season, with the hosts winning by four in both Division One meetings as the Big Cats went on to take the title.
A buzzer-beating shot from Will Ashby saw the Leopards win 73-72 at Reading in last season’s Trophy, but Leopards saw their perfect record at Harlow LeisureZone ended on Saturday as Westminster Warriors took the points with a 68-64 victory.
The Big Cats had won their first nine games at their latest ‘home’ but they came up short down the stretch against an experienced Warriors team that included former England internationals Mike Martin and Julius Joseph.
It was a first defeat under Ogunjimi after five straight wins, after six straight points from Ashby put them 55-53 ahead going into the final five minutes.
A basket from captain Albert Margai saw Leopards up by three with as many minutes remaining, but the visitors replied with a 7-0 run and never trailed again.
Ashby led the scoring with 17 points, with former Warrior Justin Hitchman adding 14 as Ladi Brown chipped in with 12, Margai added 11 and Tosin Oyelese again dominated the boards with 14 rebounds.
The Big Cats welcomed back Courtney Van Beest, but were without Tom Martin due to work commitments.
Former Leopard Martin led the London side with 17 points, with Jon Johnson finishing with 13.
The following day saw Leopards manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as they went down 84-80 at Kent Crusaders.
Ogunjimi’s team led by eight with two minutes to go, but allowed the home side to score 13 unanswered points and even when they had the ball with five seconds remaining and a chance to tie or win the game, they threw it out of bounds.
Jack Burnell then sank a three to seal the Crusaders’ win.
Leopards had led 26-10 in the first period and took a 30-17 lead into the break, but as in previous week’s win at Southwark, they failed to keep up their intensity and allowed their opponents back into the game.
The lead was trimmed to 45-40 at half-time and 62-58 at the final break, but Crusaders scored the first six points of the fourth period.
A 9-0 run capped by a pair of Margai baskets looked to have put the visitors back in control with a 74-88 lead with four minutes to go, but only Oyelese troubled the scorer again before a last-second Ashby free-throw.
Margai led Leopards with 18 points and four assists, with Brown adding 14 and Ashby 13.
Burnell – son of former Leopards’ coach Jon – hit six of his 10 three-point attempts on the way to a game-high 23 points in just 22 minutes of action.