Blazers still fall short despite a bench lift from big man Okoroh
COACH Jamie Maudsley got part of what he asked for this Christmas but that did not include a VCARS Division One win to start 2013 for his Derby Trailblazers side.
Trailblazers returned to action with a 68-64 defeat by Leicester Warriors at Moorways, edged out in the frantic final stages of a tough and close East Midlands battle.
It was Derby's eighth league defeat and injuries are still hurting them.
Tom Sherlock, Jeff Smith and Miguel Leite were unavailable again but Maudsley was able to boost his bench to face the Warriors with a factor his side has been badly lacking – height.
Academy product Kingsley Okoroh, a seven-foot England Under-18 centre who went to the USA last year to begin studies at Findlay Prep, a school in Nevada, is back in Derby and came straight in for his senior debut.
His impact was immediate, as he was sent on midway through a first quarter in which Derby had started brightly and contributed two blocked shots in successive Leicester offenses.
At the age of only 17, he cannot be expected to provide the full answer to Derby's problems but he can be a help, especially when they can get him some shots. Okoroh did not take any in 10 and a half minutes but did collect two rebounds and an assist.
Nick Rose hit his third three-pointer to take him to 13 points inside the first six minutes and when Benson Arogbo scored his first field goal with three and a half minutes to go in the first period, Trailblazers had what was to remain their biggest lead of the night at 19-5.
A Stedroy Baker burst and lay-up in the closing seconds ended the quarter with Derby still ahead 23-11 but Warriors came at them hard at the start of the second and when their American forward, Eugene Pettway, cut to the hoop through a static defence, Leicester had the lead at 29-27 little more than four minutes after the restart.
Derby quickly needed to stem the flow and they did. By half-time, they were back in front 39-36 as Luke Daykin made a three-pointer.
There was hardly any daylight between the sides on the scoreboard through the rest of the contest.
Warriors went 60-56 up in the fourth but Rose made successive jump shots to level at 60-60 and then laid up after making a steal to edge Trailblazers in front 62-60.
When good defensive play from Eric Milambo led to Arogbo converting a fast-break chance, Derby were 64-60 up with three minutes to go but they could not close it out.
In the final minute, with Warriors leading 65-64 through a Pettway three, Milambo missed a pair of free shots, Rose fouled out on 29 points and Martyn Gayle lost the ball as he tried to break away following another Milambo rebound – his 14th.
Derby's last hope disappeared when Gayle, attempting to make up for a poor shooting night, tried to power through to the hoop with only four seconds showing and bowled straight into an offensive foul on Carl Pearson.
Trailblazers will need to shake off their disappointment as they go into a double-header weekend at home to Medway Park in the league on Saturday (7.30pm) and away to Essex Leopards in the Trophy quarter-finals on Sunday (4pm).
DERBY: Rose 29, Milambo 8, Daykin 7, Arogbo 6, Allaway 5, Gayle 5, Baker 2, Brown 2.
LEICESTER: Pettway 20, Pearson 14, Sentence 14, Hopkins 7, Thomas 6, Lewis 2, Mbye 2, Powell 2, Wright 1.