On this day – March 29 (2)

2014 – Leopards keep title hopes alive

Leopards kept their outside chances of the EBL Division One title alive with a 90-84 victory against Medway Park Crusaders, on Saturday evening. With Reading Rockets losing at Worthing Thunder the Big Cats can still win the regular season crown if they win all three of their remaining games and Rockets lose both of theirs.

While that remains unlikely as the Rockets host basement side Leicester Warriors on the final day of the season, the hard-fought victory against Crusaders did wrap up their third top two finish in four seasons and ensured themselves of a medal..

But they were made to fight all the way by a young Crusaders team who included three of Leopards’ 2012 treble winning  side in their line-up but saw coach Lloyd Gardner ejected in the final period.

Howard Crawford led all scorers with a massive 25 point, 17 rebound double-double, adding three assists in 39 minutes of action. Kris Clark finished with 22 points and five assists, with Andre Lockhart adding 17 points and six assists, with Carl Josey and Courtney Van Beest scoring ten apiece.

Spanish forward Juan Cabot led the Kent side with 24 points and 11 boards, with Canadian guard Josh Whyte adding 18 points. Former Leopards Josh Steel and Bradley Wilkinson added 17 and 14 points respectively, combining for 15 rebounds with Steel adding five assists.

Steel and Josey exchanged treys to open the game, but five unanswered points gave the visitors a lead they held for almost the entire half.

A pair of Steel baskets saw Crusaders’ lead grow to 11 before Clark answered with a trey, and although Andre Lockhart drained from downtown to spark an 11-0 run, it was Medway who went into the first break with a 30-20 lead following a Patrick Lyons trey.

Shaun Durant opened the second period scoring, and Josey hit another three to make it a five point game, only to see the Kent side reply with an 8-2 run. A pair of Crawford baskets started an 11-0 Leopards’ run with Lockhart hitting the final seven points of the team to briefly tie the game at 38, but it was Medway who finished the half strongly scoring ten of the final 12 points to lead 48-40 heading into the locker room.

Steel again opened the scoring in the third period but Clark hit five points  and Crawford four as Leopards closed the gap to two with a 10-2 run and then snatched the lead with four minutes gone after back-to-back Clark triples.

Cabot gave the visitors the lead for the last time at 58-56, but five Clark points – including a pair of free-throws as Crusaders assistant coach and Great British international Dan Clark picked up a technical foul – put Leopards 63-58 ahead and a pair of Ronnie Baker free-throws sent them into the final break 72-66 ahead.

Lockhart drained a pair at the foul line to open the fourth period, but Crusaders twice pulled within two points before Gardner was ejected with six minutes remaining, leaving Lockhart to make it a seven point game from the charity stripe.

With Dan Clark now coaching them on his return to the Brentwood Centre having been waterboy for the BBL title winning sides in 1990s, Crusaders cut the lead to three on a Wilkinson score with 3:43 on the clock.

But that was as close as they came as Lockhart and Van Beest made it a seven point game, leaving Clark and Crawford to close out the win at the foul line.

2013 – Ish leads Leopards to victory

A depleted Leopards side had no problem dispatching relegation-bound Brixton Topcats 81-69 in front of a big crowd at the Brentwood Centre on Good Friday. Captain Taner Adu is out for the season with an Achilles injury, while Youngblood injured his shoulder in training the previous evening. Young forward Rowell Graham was away with Great Britain under-20s and Jamelle Davis was also unavailable.

Despite that short roster, the Big Cats had little trouble against the London side as Ish Fontaine led the Leopards’ scoring for the first time, draining seven of his 11 shots from outside the three-point arc on the way to a 21 point haul in a team-high 35 minutes. Greg Hernandez missed out on a double-double by a single rebound, finishing with 17 points in 31 minutes, adding five assists,  while Carl Josey added 12 points and nine boards  as all eight Leopards got on the scoresheet.

Simon Cummings, who had a quiet night with nine points and four assists in 28 minutes, opened the scoring before Fontaine drained his first three of the night as Leopards led from tip to buzzer. The Big Cats led 18-12 at the first break but the lead ballooned to 17 in the second period when Hernandez drained a three with 2:42 remaining in the period, and they went into the locker room 37-24 ahead.

Topcats never got any closer than that 13 point margin in the third period as Tom Martin sent Leopards into the final break 59-40 ahead, and the lead peaked at 22 a minute into the final period when Fontaine scored from downtown as Leopards wrapped up their 14th league win of the campaign.

2009 Reading Rockets 98 Leopards 85

EBL Division One @ Rivermead Leisure Centre

2003
Newcastle Eagles 83 Essex Leopards 81
BBL Championship @ Metro Radio Arena

1997
Birmingham Bullets 94 Leopards 101
Budweiser League @ NEC Birmingham

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