Leopards looking at relegation battle after Leicester loss
PUBLISHED: 09:00 24 December 2019
Leopards will go into 2020 in a relegation battle after their 94-85 overtime loss at Leicester Warriors.
The Big Cats will open the New Year with a trip to fellow strugglers Barking Abbey on January 4 before unbeaten leaders Solent visit a day later when the Brentwood Centre expects its biggest crowd of the season.
Thomas Baker's side led by as many as 11 points at Leicester and were five up with four minutes to go, but the home side took control to send them to their 11th league loss of the campaign.
Without captain Chuck Duru and point guard Toby Gaston-Davis, Leopards struggled with foul trouble as Hafeez Abdul and Ray Akpofure both left the game early, as Jerrelle Okoro and Prince Lartey finished with four each.
Okoro led the way with an 18-point, 11 rebound double-double, plus four assists, while Abdul had a season-low 16 points and five boards.
Lartey added 14 points, Teni Mongo came off the bench to finish with 13 and Akpofure added 11 rebounds to his nine points.
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A Caleb Taberner dunk sent the Big Cats into the first break 23-21 up and an excellent second period saw Akpofure make it 36-28 with three minutes left before two Simeon Douglas free-throws sent his side into locker room 40-30 ahead.
Mongo's triple put Leopards 52-41 up with 4.30 left in the third period but Warriors had an 8-0 run before James Cummings ended it at the foul line only for the hosts to close to 53-51 at the break.
A high-scoring start to the fourth period saw Lartey put Leopards 67-65 up and an Akpofure lay-up made it a five-point game.
A Cummings' lay-up with 81 seconds left kept Leopards ahead by four but Roderick Howell and American guard TJ Henderson tied the score, before Euan James' attempted buzzer-beater rimmed out.
Howell opened overtime with a pair of free-throws as Warriors started with a 6-0 run and although Taberner ended it, Martyn Gayle's trey effectively ended the contest.
Coach Baker said: "Being in a position to win so close to the final whistle, this loss is one of the toughest to take.
"The guys committed to some subtle changes we had made to our game plan and for the most part it was paying off.
"This half of the season has not been what we wanted in terms of results but I believe after the Christmas break we can come back and change our fortunes."