Ogunjimi looks for Levett Essex Leopards revival
Despite a pair of heart-breaking defeats Levett Essex Leopards’ coach Steve Ogunjimi is looking for his side to continue the form they showed for the majority of the weekend when they host Derby Trailblazers at Harlow Leisurezone on Saturday (7.30pm).
The Big Cats trailed by as many as 19 before losing in overtime at Hemel Storm on Saturday before going down 91-90 in a thriller at reigning champions Manchester Magic the following afternoon.
"If we play like we did in the second half at Hemel and throughout the Manchester game, we’ll be okay, said Ogunjimi. "We just can’t play as poorly as we did in the first half against Storm. We can’t have 25 point halves and expect to dig our way out of trouble.
"We showed on Sunday that we are more than capable of competing with anyone in this league despite our injury problems, and I was so disappointed for the guys that we didn’t get the win we deserved."
Derby will arrive at Leisurezone occupying fourth place in Division One with ten wins from 15 games but the loss of a couple of key players has seen them lose three straight league games as well as losing at Manchester in the National Trophy semi-final. They also reached the semi-final of the National Cup but were unable to match Leopards’ BBL Trophy giant-killing with a 33-point home loss to Newcastle Eagles.
Leopards’ suffered an 83-70 loss when they travelled to the midlands in November, but both of last season’s meetings proved to be thrillers that went down to the final play before the home team won on each occasion.
With captain Mike Martin still out of action with a foot injury, Leopards’ suffered another crushing blow during an 88-83 overtime loss at Hemel as Alex Scotland-Williamson suffered a season-ending injury, tearing his quad muscle and damaging his knee as he fell badly while collecting a pass from AJ Roberts.
With the score tied at 77, the game looked likely to be abandoned as the English big man waited for an ambulance on the basket, but he managed to slide off the court allowing the game to continue.
The long delay clearly disrupted a Leopards side who had dominated after the half-time break and Storm were able to close out a key win.
A terrible first half saw Scotland-Williamson, playing only his second game after joining last week, open the scoring before the home side set the tone with a 13-2 run.
Things didn’t get any better during the rest of the period as they went into the first break 21-8 down and they went scoreless during the first two minute so the second period to trail 27-8 before Dougie Bennett finally got the visitors going but they were unable to make little impression on the deficit, and despite Bennett’s shot late in the half, they went into the locker room 40-25 behind.
Scores from Roberts and Darrell Bethune saw Leopards open the second half strongly, and they slowly whittled the deficit down before Roberts’ free-throw sent them into the fourth period trailing only 57-51.
A Bennett and-one halved that deficit with the opening play of the final quarter and a similar play from Roberts tied the game with two minutes gone before Justin Hitchman have them the lead with 6:54 on the clock.
The rest of the period was nip and tuck, and Hemel went into the final minute 77-75 ahead but Roberts hit a jump shot to tie the game with 43 seconds remaining, and during a frantic last few seconds the American guard had two chances to snatch the win before the buzzer went to send the game into overtime.
With the loss of Scotland-Williamson early in the extra period, the Big Cats fell behind shortly after the injury, allowing the hosts to open a five-point lead and despite a big trey from Roberts, Storm held on for the victory.
Roberts finished with 29 points, nine rebounds and six assists, with Bennett and Bethune adding 12 points apiece and Scott-Williamson pulling down eight rebounds before his premature exit from the game,
The following day at Manchester saw a depleted a clearly tired Leopards team match their high-flying opponents throughout the game and had a chance to take the win in the dying seconds with Hitchman’s shot rimming out and Roberts attempted tip-in being blocked.
Ultimately the Big Cats were beaten by an incredible performance from Magic guard Stefan Gill who hit six threes on the way to a 24-point game and proved to be unguardable at times before scoring the winning basket with 21 seconds on the clock.
Jamie Hayes opened the scoring with a dunk, and Leopards led throughout the first period before Caleb Tabiner sent them into the first break with a 25-18 lead.
A pair of Tabiner baskets saw that lead grow to nine early in the second period and Leopards’ lead peaked at ten with 81 seconds of the half remaining on a Shaq Lewis lay-up.
Magic finished the half strongly to cut Leopards’ to 48-43 and the hosts continued that run as they hit the first five points of the second half to tie the game and there was little to choose between the sides as they went into the final break tied at 62.
Bethune opened the fourth period with a long jump shot, but the lead continued to repeatedly change hands before a three-point play from Hayes put his side 85-83 ahead going into the final 100 seconds.
But a massive trey from Gill put his side ahead, only to see Hitchman hit a pair at foul line and Roberts put them 89-86 ahead with 50 seconds remaining.
But it was clearly Gill’s night as he hit a seemingly impossible three off the dribble, and although Roberts put his side ahead by one with a free-throw with 30 seconds remaining only to see Gill drive from the left to hit the game winner.
Bethune finished with 19 points, with Roberts hitting 14 points and added seven assists and six rebounds. Hitchman recorded a season-high 13 points, with Bennett adding ten points and Perry Lawson eight as all nine Leopards’ players got on the scoresheet.