The Leopards dropped the ball in their final preseason game against the Afghanistan National Basketball Team Saturday at Frantz Athletic Court.
Smooth sailing turned into an intense game in which the Leopards finally fell, 63-61.
“It’s still early in the season and we’re still gelling together, but we’ll be all right. No one is really panicking,” senior forward Tyler Hoyt said.
Junior center Vince Bauer was the first to get on the board with a jumper followed by another by junior point guard Jake Veith.
The Afghan team got in some trouble with turnovers in the first half from travel calls, giving the Leopards the advantage to run more plays.
Impressive ball handling by freshman point guard Jourdan Simmonds and consistent buckets by senior forward Austin Napolitano opened a 16-9 lead.
The Leopards’ defensive strategies were not easy to break and the Afghan team struggled to shut down some of the Leopards top scorers, but did catch up to a 20-15 deficit.
The men did not flinch, and continued to play fantastic defense and shut down their opponents’ front-runners in the paint.
In the final minutes of the first half, senior guard Jeremy Lay got a steal and made a three-pointer well outside the line.
Right after he followed with another striking three-pointer that got the crowd hyped, closing the first half Leopards up 35-24.
“I work on the small things; having my feet and being in shooting position with my hands ready,” Lay said.
Unfortunately, the Leopards did not carry the momentum of the first half into the second.
“We didn’t shoot the ball as well in the second half,” Hoyt said.
The Afghan team started strong scoring points while the Leopards failed to retrieve rebounds.
Opponent Mostafa Asefi made a driven layup and earned a foul, making him the first to be sent to the free-throw line.
After Asefi made both shots the Afghan Team looked much more alive only down 35-33.
Senior forward Trevor Woodland scored first for the Leopards in the second half with a three-pointer, but Yousof Etemadi dished it right back with another three-pointer.
“When they hit that three our momentum went down,” Lay said.
The Leopards struggled with making shots and grabbing rebounds, enabling the visitors to tie the game at 38-38.
Things got more intense and more players were sent to the free throw line.
Missed free throws and more turnovers allowed the Afghan team to gain a 42-39 lead.
With five minutes left the Leopards gained a 53-52 lead.
Down 62-61 in the last seconds Simmonds missed a crucial layup and the Afghan Team pulled off the win.
“We need to work on finishing teams off,” senior point guard John Leggett said.
“We’re on the verge of being great,” Leggett said. “We still have the mindset that we’re a really great team.”
The Leopards play at 6 p.m. today against Pacific Lutheran at the Puget Sound Tip-Off Classic, in Tacoma, Wash.
Alyssa Cole can be reached at email@example.com.