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Essex Leopards edged out on trip to Tees Valley
ESSEX Leopards’ season started in controversial fashion, with an 83-81 defeat at Tees Valley Mohawks in the National Trophy.
Player-coach Robert Youngblood looked to have tied the game with a three-point shot just eight seconds from time.
But the referee ruled his toe was on the line and gave a two-pointer, leaving Mohawks to wrap the win up from the foul line.
And that angered Youngblood.
“It was definitely a three,” he said.
“I looked over at their bench and they all clearly thought it was a three. “The ref said my toe was on the line, but he must have been looking through a microscope.
“However, we didn’t lose it because of that, we lost it because of our turnovers.
“I told the players that if we won it on the boards and had less turnovers, we would get the win.
“We out-rebounded them by six, but had 21 turnovers to their 12, and they scored 27 points off them.
“We’ve simply got to take better care of the ball, but when Simon Cummings joins us we should be a lot better.”
Greg Hernandez marked his competitive debut with a 22 point, 13 rebound double-double for the Big Cats, with Basildon -based Lukas Volskis adding 15 points and three assists.
Hernandez opened the scoring, and Leopards led by six at the five-minute mark when the American forward converted a Lawrence Brown assist.
And although Mohawks fought back, Simonas Bublys scored off Taner Adu’s assist to send them into the final break 23-21 ahead.
That lead was eight points after two-and-half minutes following a Hernandez basket.
But Tees Valley rattled off 13 straight points capped by a Jamie Kohn basket to take control and David Hanson sent them into the locker room with a 40-34 lead as he hit a three pointer.
Volskis scored off Brown’s assist to open the second half and Brown levelled the score at 54 with 4:25 on the clock before Adu hit a pair at the foul line to put Leopards back ahead.
The teams were tied at 60-60 at the end of the third quarter where England junior Rowell Graham converted a pair of free-throws to put Leopards ahead.
But there was little to choose between the teams before Hanson sent hit team into the last minute with an 80-76 lead.
Volskis chipped a point off with one of two foul shots before Hanson then converted a pair of charity shots, only to see Volskis hit a two to set up the final, controversial ending to the game.
Leopards have no competitive game this weekend due to having a bye in the National Cup as holders but they travel to University East London to face Division Two side Newham Neptunes in a friendly.
Youngblood is expected to try out at least one new player in the game before Leopards return to the Brentwood Centre on Friday, September 28, and Basildon Sporting Village two days later.