Bulldogs travelled to face Leopards in their first game of 2019, with Captain Billy Smith, Josh Hales and Brandon Marshall unavailable, while Jack Teagle was absent owing to injury. However, the side welcomed back Lewis Tebbit.
Leopards started brightly, with Ablard in particular making the most of the size advantage held over the Bulldogs. A pair of scores from Ashley MacDonald in the middle minutes of the quarter gave Bury a small lead before a three from Bell put Leopards ahead. A pair of scores from Jason Sykes in the final minutes of the quarter tied the game at 13 apiece after one.
Both side’s upped their defensive intensity to open the second, with a three from Bell the only score in the first four minutes of the quarter, before the sides exchanged baskets through the rest of the half with Leopards up 29-26.
Coach Arron MacDonald turned to experience to open the second half, sliding Sykes and MacDonald into more familiar roles, and adding Adam Maddison, Seb Benford and Jimmy Steedman to the lineup, as Bury sought a foothold in the game.
Another three from Bell four minutes in was the Leopards first score in the half, but by then, the Bulldogs had taken a narrow lead, as Steedman caught fire notching eight points in the opening 90 seconds of the half. With further threes from Benford, Laycock and Spurling the Bulldogs strung together an 11-25 Quarter and took a 40-51 lead.
However, the much-improved Leopards string together a 9-0 run to open the fourth as Bulldogs again went four minutes without notching a score. Steedman again calmed the nerves with a four point burst, and while Leopards took a 56-55 Lead with Under 90 seconds to play, Coach MacDonald calmed the nerves in a timeout and pushed that they went back to what got them the lead - tough defence and good ball movement. A score from Tebbit was sandwiched between another pair from Steedman, as Bulldogs held a 61-56 lead with possession and 30 seconds to play on a Leopards’ time-out, uncharcteristically, the Bulldogs bungled the out of bounds play, with Leopards eventually coming up with the ball and Morsman reducing the game to 58-61 with 4 seconds to play.
Coach MacDonald called another timeout, advancing the ball, and looking to draw a foul - however, the whistle wasn’t forthcoming and the ball was fumbled out of bounds with a second on the clock.
Knowing a three would tie it, Leopards went back to the hot hand of Bell - but in double coverage Maddison managed to tip the effort on the buzzer, which fell short as Bulldogs escaped with the points.
Steedman (16), MacDonald (12) and Spurling were Bury’s leading scorers, and Steedman was named Player of the Game.
”Firstly, all credit to Leopards - they deserved to win this game” said Coach Arron MacDonald.
”They won two quarters and tied one. They out-rebounded us, they out-worked us and they made the game look like one of their training sessions for three quarters of it - as it was played at their pace and not ours.”
”They say the mark of a good team is playing badly and winning - so I guess we must be a good team! We had one good quarter, but we had multiple stretches where we were, frankly, pathetic tonight. We went away from our identity on both ends of the floor - we played a little selfish, a little quiet and more than a little soft - we were incredibly lucky to come away with the points - we need to be better than this.”
MacDonald reserved special praise for a couple of players though, adding “That was by far and away Jimmy’s best performance in our jersey, and Adam came in and did a great job on the glass too - before stopping the game going to overtime. These guys should serve as examples to everyone else at the club; They worked their butts off, understood their role, and were ready when their number got called - then they went out there and did what they do well. Now we’re going to be looking for that kind of effort from everyone moving forwards.”