Leopards will look to build on a great fourth period display against Hemel Storm when they host Thames Valley Cavaliers at Oaklands College on Saturday.
The Big Cats outscored second placed Storm 38-18 in the final quarter, but were edged out 99-93, coach Thomas Baker was pleased with his side’s improvement:
“The performance overall showed the growth we have come on from the addition of new players and the existing ones stepping up” said Baker.
“Unfortunately we missed too many easy chances and gave Hemel multiple extra points from the foul line and they capitalised on our mistakes.
“The fourth quarter showed the strength of us offensively but we must make adjustments in game and ensure we play better particularly in the third period.
“I am excited to see how this group gels together and improves in the latter stages of this season.”
Cavaliers will arrive at Oaklands sitting in third place in Division One with a 13-4 record, and as the Big Cats look to move up the table they’ll aim to avenge their 108-97 loss at Uxbridge College in November.
A stunning fourth period wasn’t quite enough as the new-look Leopards went down at neighbours Hemel, on Saturday.
The Big Cats blitzed the home side in final period and got the deficit down to just five in the final minute before title-chasing Storm held on the for the win.
It was a very different Leopards’ line-up that started the game at a packed Hemel Leisure Centre with Elvishi Dusha and Osvaldas Gaizauskas making their debut alongside recent signings Orlan Jackman, Prince Larty and Teni Mongo.
Albanian international Dusha certainly made an immediate impact, leading the Big Cats with 23 points, seven assists and three rebounds, while Gaizauskas finished with 15 points and nine boards.
Larty had a 15 point, ten assist double-double, adding five rebonds and three steals, Jackman had 11 points and 12 rebounds, while the other debutant Aaron Williams had ten points and Ray Akpofure had eight points and five bounds in just eight minutes.
Lartey’s triple with four first period minutes remaining put his side 14-13 ahead
But that proved to be the last time the Big Cats led as Bode Adeluola launched an 8-0 run to send Storm into the first break leading 22-14.
That advantage was quickly cut as Leopards opened the second quarter with triples from Dusha and Lartey, only for Storm to hit five unanswered points to regain the initiative and the hosts went into the locker room with a 44-33 lead.
The third period was an absolute disaster for the visitors as they were outscored 37-22, and they still trailed by 22 after four fourth period minutes.
But captain Chuck Duru launched a 13-3 run capped by a Dush triple to make it 91-77 with 2:39 on the clock.Adeluola broke the run but Dusha’s triple made it an eight-point game with 70 seconds remaining.
After Leopards had forced a 24 second violation, a series of fouls on both teams followed before Adeuola made it 97-88 with 27 seconds remaining.
Larty sunk Leopards tenth trey of the game to cut the lead to six with 20 seconds on the clock and after a single Newman free-throw Aaron Williams made it a five point game at the foul line, but that was as close as they got as Storm closed out the win.