Leopards pay for poor start

John ShodipoLevett Essex Leopards were made to pay for a poor start as they went down 93-79 at promotion rivals Thames Valley Cavaliers, on Saturday.
The home side raced into a 26-10 lead late in the first period giving the visitors a mountain to climb, but coach Thomas Baker was pleased with how his side reacted despite the poor start: “It was a much better performance overall this time round against Thames Valley” he said.
“A poor start meant we were chasing the game which ultimately cost us the result in the latter stages. We showed we can cause teams problems with the way we play and getting the game back to a 1 point, I felt we were going to go on from there and win the game. As always there are things we can improve, however I saw how resilient my guys can be and we showed grit and toughness to compete throughout which is what we will need to do in the upcoming games.”
To add to the Big Cats’ woes, guard Will Ashby was ejected in the fourth period for his second intentional foul as the referees appeared to have a different interpretation of the rules to any other game Leopards have played this season.
Martell McLemore opened the scoring with an ally-oop after just five seconds , and Jamie Hayes was the only Leopard to bother the scorer as Cavs moved into an 8-2 lead.
Debutant Jerrel Laine scored within two seconds of entering the game, but the hosts took control before a trey and a dunk from Oaklands youngster Jordan George finally got Leopards moving as they closed the first period on a 5-0 run to trail by 11.
The visitors continued that form with Korry Callum opening the second period scoring before as six straight John Shodipo points capped a 10-2 run to make it three point game with three minutes gone.
From there on it was nip and tuck with Shodipo scoring from downtown and Callum hitting three free-throws having been fouled in the act of shooting.
A Laine trey made it a three point game with 90 seconds remaining but Leopards ended the half 44-37 down as a couple of poor decisions down the stretch cost them.
A pair of Shodipo baskets kept Leopards in touch early in the second half before Ashby picked up his first unsportsmanlike foul – the Big Cats somehow managed to pick up four during the game – but Laine’s jump shot brought them within a point of the hosts going into the final two minutes of the third period.
That was as good as it got for the visitors as a series of calls went against them and – as if by magic – George was called for an unsportsmanlike foul immediately after the visitors moved within a point and the hosts closed out the half on a 8-3 run to lead 68-62 at the final break.
McLemore opened the fourth period with a triple, and although Shodipo and Callum kept the Big Cats in touch at the foul line and when Ashby left the game seven minutes from time with Leopards trailing by eight the hosts took control to see out the win.
Shodipo led the way for the Big Cats, finishing with nine rebounds to go with his double-double, while captain Dougie Bennett added 14 points. Laine and Callum came off the bench to finish with 12 and 11 points respectively, the latter adding five rebounds. Ashby had a team high five assists to go with his seven points before his early departure. McLemore led the hosts with 21 points, while Phil Perre – who played briefly with the old Leopards in the late 1990s – and Robert Banks added 18 apiece.