2007 – Spartans too strong for Leopards
Leopards 73 (26,41,58,73) San Jose State University 107 (17,40,74)
Leopards could not build on a strong first half performance as they went down to a heavy defeat against San Jose University on Saturday.
In front of a big crowd at Wodson Park, the Big Cats fielded a team of trialists and guests, but found the visitors from the United States too tough as they took control after the half-time interval.
Former Milton Keynes Lions and West Herts Warriors centre Lee McCarthy led the Leopards’ scoring with 16 points, and was given good back-up from forward James Warwick – who played for the club during the National Cup winning season in 2005/6 – and 17-year-old point guard Lukas Volskis who scored 15 and 14 respectively.
It was Warwick – who spent last season in the top division of the Austrian League – who opened the scoring from the free-throw line, and he went on to score four of the first six Leopards points as they took a 6-2 lead. Back-to-back baskets from Steve Ogunjimi – another player to feature for Leopards in the 2005/6 campaign – took the hosts’ lead to 10-4 before four Warwick points made it 14-6 with four first period minutes remaining.
Leopards’ long range shooting put them in pole position during the closing minutes of the quarter, Volskis, McCarthy and Warwick all drained three pointers before Volskis hit a buzzer-beating three to send Leopards into the first break with a 26-17 lead.
Scores from Volskis, Nathan Wilson and Simon Taylor saw Leopards open the second period strongly, extending their lead to 33-20 after three minutes play. That proved to be as good as it got for Jon Burnell’s team, and three scoreless minutes – not helped by McCarthy and Leigh Greenan each missing a pair of free-throws – saw the Spartans go on an 11-0 tear to close the gap to 34-33 with two minutes of the half remaining.
A Warwick three broke the run, and further scores from McCarthy and Ogunjimi kept Leopards’ lead around the four mark before three late San Jose point sent the teams into the locker room with the Big Cats leading 41-40.
McCarthy’s second trey of the game launched a 6-0 Leopards’ run as they started the second half strongly, with Canadian guard Dwayne Selby converting a three-point play to put the home side 47-40 ahead. A Jamon Hill basket and a Tim Pierce trey narrowed that advantage to two points before a single Selby free-throw and a Wilson jump shot took Leopards back into a five point lead. Hill and Darrion Goins cut that lead to a single point before Goins drained a trey to give Spartans their first lead of the game – and they never trailed again.
Fifteen straight points from the visitors, capped by an Oliver Caballero basket put them 60-50 ahead, and although Volskis drained another shot from long range, San Jose reached the final break with a 74-58 lead.
There never looked any chance of a Leopards comeback in the fourth quarter, as Spartans repeatedly scored in transition to stretch the lead. A monster dunk from McCarthy gave the home fans something to cheer about, but despite the margin of the loss the game gave coach Burnell the chance to look at plenty of players are Leopards prepare for the new season.