Levett Essex Leopards win pre-Christmas thriller
PUBLISHED: 14:30 19 December 2016 | UPDATED: 08:12 21 December 2016
Essex Leopards 87 Lancashire Spinners 86
Levett Essex Leopards head into the Christmas break on a high after a thrilling victory against Lancashire Spinners last night.
The Brentwood crowd went through the full range of emotions as their depleted line-up trailed by 12 at half-time, before a stunning second-half comeback saw them lead by seven with just over two minutes remaining.
But the visitors replied with an 8-0 run and appeared to have won the game as they had a one-point lead with 3.2 seconds on the clock, only for Tosin Oyelese to hit a buzzer-beating jump shot to spark wild celebrations.
The odds were certainly stacked against the Big Cats as they went into the game with only seven fit players, a squad that included coach Steve Ogunjimi who played his first number of meaningful minutes for two years.
However Ogunjimi’s appearance only lasted 12 minutes of court time as he was controversially ejected midway through the second period for what appeared to be nothing more than talking to the referee.
With Justin Hitchman and Dougie Bennett injured, Caleb Tabanar and Dominic Scott-Robinson unavailable, and Perry Lawson suspended following his ejection at Leicester, the remaining Leopards were forced to step up.
And they were led by a triple-double from American guard AJ Robert who finished with a 24-point, 12-rebound and 12-assist triple-double.
Darrell Bethune added 25 points, four assists and four boards, while Mike Martin had 18 points, nine rebounds and three assists in a full 40-minute performance, and Jamie Hayes added 11 points.
The Big Cats overcame a slow start to cut an early 10-point deficit to trail only 24-21 at the first break, but the ejection of Ogunjimi clearly disrupted the home side and they were 50-38 down at half-time.
The visitors made it a 15-point game with the opening score of the second half and there was little sign of the comeback that was to follow until three minutes before the end of the third period when Roberts launched a 10-2 run, and a Bethune lay-up cut the deficit to 67-65 at the final break.
Bethune drained a three to open the final stanza as Leopards took their first lead of the game, and Martin put the hosts 75-69 ahead with 6.31 left on the clock.
The lead grew to eight with four minutes remaining as Martin converted a Bethune assist, and Roberts made it 82-75 with 2.19 remaining.
As the Big Cats struggled at the foul line, Spinners chipped away and Mark Rangely cut the lead to 85-84 with 23 seconds left, before a poorly executed play saw the ball turned over as Rangeley put his team ahead by one going into the final play.
A timeout from stand-in coach Roger Malpass saw Roberts inbound the ball to Martin who found Oyelese just inside the foul line and he sunk his shot to seal the win.