Key calls went against the Big Cats throughout the game, but their performance was much more encouraging than the Cup defeat against the same side in the Cup the pervious week .
It was a depleted Leopards team that eventually came up short at high-flying Derby on Saturday, but the Big Cats produced a much better performance than in their National Cup exit .
With Tom Martin and Brian Nguru injured and Evan Walshe on England under-18 duty, Ogunjimi’s side travelled to the midlands with only eight players, and the Leopards’ coach put on a kit for the club for the first time in a decade .
Despite the problems – which Ogunjimi hopes to solve with a couple of signings in the next fortnight – Leopards started well with treys from Will Ashby, Courtney Van Beest and Ladi Brown before a Brown basket sent them into the first break with a 21-17 lead .
With the foul count growing – the visitors were called for 24 fouls in contrast to Derby’s 16 and went to the foul line five less times – the second period was a frustrating one for the Big Cats, and with assistant coach Roger Malpass collecting a baffling technical foul, the hosts went into the locker room with a 34-31 lead .
The third period was a disaster for the Big Cats as Trailblazers opened with a 13-1 run and they outscored 25-12, and Derby closed the quarter on a 14-9 tear to lead 59-43 at the final break .
It would’ve been easy for Leopards to fold at that stage but Brown hit eight points in a 12-4 start to the quarter, and despite Justin Hitchman fouling out Albert Margai capped an 11-2 run with a trey to give his side a 68-67 lead with 2;37 remaining .
Derby responded with a deuce from David Watts, before Will Ashby converted from downtown to put the visitors up by two . Then, having not converted from long range all night, Sydney Donaldson sunk a difficult three-pointer to put Derby 72-71 ahead with 1:33 left. Both sides failed to convert on offences, but after Brown missed with 23 seconds on the clock it took Leopards 15 seconds to foul, and Margai fouled out with eight seconds remaining as Leopards were forced to stop the clock .
Dan Watts hit both free-throws ,but after Ogunjimi had called a timeout to set up a play and advance the ball to half court, the visitors completely messed up the inbound allowing Kane King to grab the ball before being fouled to wrap up the win at the foul line.
Brown led Leopards with a 21 point, 12 rebound double-double., while Van Beest also had a double-double with ten points and as many boards. Hitchman and Ashby both his ten points apiece while Tosin Oyelese pulled down ten rebounds as the hosts were out-rebounded 50-41.