A good performance wasn’t quite enough to give Leopards their first league win of the season on Saturday as they went down 81-67 against Reading Rockets at Oaklands.
The Big Cats matched the high-flying Rockets for most of the game, but a 16-2 run during the final four minutes of the third period proved to be the difference between the teams.
Division One’s league scorer Hafeez Abdul had another massive night as he finished with a 27 point, 14 rebound double-double, while Jerrelle Okoro added 16 points, seven rebounds, and three assists. Ray Akpofure also had a double-double with 13 points and 12 boards.
AJ Carr led Reading with 16 points and six rebounds before being ejected following a second technical foul, while Nick Rihards and Matias Boho added 14 points apiece with six and eight rebounds respectively and Liam Davis had 13 points and as many boards.
Abdul scored the game’s first points before captain Chuck Duru hit a try, and Leopards played easily their best basketball of the season in the first 26 minutes of the game.
Back-to-back Abdul triples gave Leopards a six point lead after seven minutes and he took his tally to 12 points as the Big Cats went into the first break with a 22-17 lead.
Only Akpofure troubled the scorer in the first four minutes of the second period as Richahrds hit four points in an 8-2 run but Leopards stayed in touch and Akpofure dunked before Abdul hit three straight free-throws after being clattered by Boho to send sides into the locker room tied at 37.
It was nip and tuck in the early stages of the second half but a pair of three-pointers from Okoro treys gave Leopards a 51-46 lead before the key run from Reading capped by a buzzer-beating Asher Ndah triple sent Rockets into the final break leading 62-53.
Okoro sunk his third trey of the evening to open the final stanza and Akpofure also scored from downtown to make it a five point game midway through the period.
Carr replied with a trey before a single free-throw from Prince Larty
– playing his first game for a month following an ankle injury – and an Akpofure basket reduced the arrears back to five with three minutes remaining.
Scores from Abdul and Duru saw Leopards head into the final minute still trailing by five but Davis dunked the ball to make it a seven point game and Rockets wrapped up the win from the foul line to give the
scoreline a flattering look.