2015 – Heartbreak for Leopards
One of the most successful seasons in Leopards’ history ended in disappointment as they lost 61-51 against Kent Crusaders in the play-off semi-final on Saturday. A poor shooting display proved to be the Big Cats’ downfall as they converted under 27 percent of their field goal attempts and scored just 22 second half points.
Captain Albert Margai led Robert Youngblood’s team with 16 points, with Courtney Van Beest adding 11 points and Ladi Brown – who made his first start in place of unavailable American Byron Richards – finished with nine points and seven rebounds.
Crusaders did a good job limiting the normally reliable Dave Ajumobi and Will Ashby to four points each, shooting a combined three-from-23 from the field. Former Leopard Josh Steel finished with 14 points and six boards before going on to win the MVP award as Crusaders won the final while another ex-Big Cat Dwayne Orija added ten rebounds to his seven points.
Steel opened the scoring in a tight first period before Ashby replied with a trey, and there was little to split the sides as Matic Zupanc scored from downtown to tie the game at 14-14 at the first break.
Only a Van Beest jump shot and a single Ladi Brown free-throw troubled the scorers for Leopards in the first five and half minute of the second period as Kent opened a 23-17 lead. Margai broke the run with a trey, only for Steel to reply in kind before a Lukas Winegarner tip-on and a three-point Ladi Brown play pulled the Big Cats back into the game.
Ashby tied things at 26-26 with a free-throw but it was Margai who ensured that the Big Cats were level at 29 going into the locker room at half-time as he grabbed his own miss and drained a three with 42 seconds on the clock. The third period proved to be little short of a disaster for Youngblood’s team as Kent opened with ten straight points.
A timeout from the Leopards’ play-caller finally stopped the rot as Van Beest broke the run but that was only a temporary reprieve as the offensive woes continued with Kent scoring another eight unanswered points to lead 47-31 with three minutes left in the quarter.
Winegarner scored Leopards’ second basket of the period, but although they finally put some points on the board with Ladi Brown hitting a trey, the Big Cats went into the final break trailing 54-40.
Van Beest opened the fourth scoring and as Leopards’ defence tightened up, Ajumobi made it an eight point game with 5:30 remaining.
A Van Beest tip-in cut the deficit to six at the midway stage of the period and Ajumobi maintained that margin with 3:39 on the clock.
But that was the last time Leopards got on the scoreboard as Crusaders wrapped up the win from the foul line and the Big Cats were left to taste semi-final defeat in the Final Four for the fourth time in five visits to the end-of-season tournament.