Dave Ryan reports…
Levett Essex Leopards will be hoping for home comforts when they host Ipswich at the Brentwood Centre on Saturday, tip-off 7pm.
The Big Cats have lost all three games since they last played on their main court – including a 93-79 defeat at Thames Valley Cavaliers on Saturday – and they badly need to return to winning ways if they are to mount a successful promotion challenge.
Thomas Baker’s team have already travelled to Suffolk to face Ipswich this season, cruising to an 87-58 win in the Patrons Cup.
That loss effectively eliminated Ipswich from the competition, and they went out of the National Cup at the third round stage with a loss at Division One side Hemel Storm.
Their start to the league campaign has been more successful with four wins from their opening six games, making them one of four sides tied in second spot. Leopards are sixth, with two games in hand over the bunch immediately above them.
There is the normal pre-game coaching session at the Brentwood Centre on Saturday with youngsters having the chance to be taught the game by Leopards’ players. Call 07828 470015 for more details or see www.leopardsbasketball.co.uk.
Coach Baker will certainly be looking for his side to make a better start than they did against Cavaliers.
The home side raced into a 26-10 lead late in the first period, and Baker admitted that his team failed to perform early in the game:
“We just didn’t play in the first quarter” he said. “We were sluggish and looked scared of them. The disappointing thing was we looked better than them for most of the rest of the game.”
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.
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, and they continued that form as six straight John Shodipo points capped a 10-2 run to open the second period.
From there on it was nip and tuck as Leopards ended the half 44-37 down as a couple of poor decisions down the stretch cost them, 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 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. Debutant Jerrel Laine and Korry 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.