Leopards suffer first league loss

PUBLISHED: 17:00 03 November 2015

Essex Leopards Justin Hitchman in action against Manchester (pic: Paul Phillips)

Essex Leopards Justin Hitchman in action against Manchester (pic: Paul Phillips)


Big Cats rue bad ending

Essex Leopards suffered the first loss in the defence of their Division One title after a poor end to the game against Manchester Magic saw them beaten 76-70 on Sunday.

The Big Cats led 70-66 with 3:40 on the clock, but they never scored again as the visitors closed out the game on a 10-point run.

Poor starts to both halves saw Leopards make life difficult for themselves as they were outscored 12-2 in the first five minutes of both the first and third periods.

A Justin Hitchman dunk cut the deficit to 21-13 at the first break and three-pointers from Ladi Brown and Will Ashby kept Leopards in touch in the second period before Courtney Van Beest launched a 13-4 run that saw the hosts take the lead for the first time.

Ashby hit a three off Albert Margai’s assist to put the Big Cats up by four before Van Beest ensured they would lead 45-43 at half-time with a jump shot.

Only Tosin Oyelese troubled the scorers for the home side in the opening six minutes of the second half, though, as Magic built a 10-point lead before six unanswered points dragged the Leopards back into the game and Jamie Hayes cut the deficit to 59-55 going into the final break.

Hitchman drained a three to cap a 7-0 run as Leopards started the fourth period well, and the game was nip and tuck, with threes from Brown and Margai keeping the hosts just in front.

Hitchman scored what proved to be Leopards final points of the game with a jump shot, and although the Big Cats could question how Magic’s tough defence failed to produce a single foul in their favour for over 11 minutes, poor shot selection down the stretch saw the visitors wrap up the win.

Brown led the hosts with 18 points, with Ashby adding 13, Hitchman 12 and Van Beest 11 along with six rebounds.

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