2013 – Play-off dreams shattered
Leopards’ dreams of repeating as Division One play-off champions were cruelly shattered in Manchester as they went down 75-70 in overtime against league champions Reading Rockets. The Big Cats led for almost all of regulation time, but three key calls went against them in fourth period – the main one being the foul on leading scorer Greg Hernandez which saw him forced to sit down with eight minutes remaining – and the Rockets capitalised in overtime.
“It’s very frustrating” said general manager Dave Ryan. “We’ve worked hard all season to get to the finals, and to have the same referee make three calls that basically changed the game is very disappointing. But we’ve had a great season. With an entirely new team we’ve won the National Trophy for the first time, finished in the top four in the league and reached the Final Fours. Robert [Youngblood], Roger [Malpass] and the team deserve a lot of credit.
“Our crowds really picked up at Christmas and we have a great future ahead of us at the Brentwood Centre video from rtl. We’re already preparing for next season, and come September we’ll be ready for another shot at it.”
Hernandez finished with a 21 point, ten rebound double-double, with Simon Cummings adding 15 point and four assists. Carl Josey also had a double-double, finishing with 12 points and ten boards.
While Leopards may have justified complaints about the refereeing late in the game, they helped their own downfall by missing ten of their 30 free-throws, and a foot injury to Cummings – which would have ruled him out of Sunday’s final – clearly limited his effectiveness down the stretch as they let a big lead slip.
Lewis Champion gave Rockets what proved to be their only lead of regulation time with the opening score of the game but Josey replied and Ish Fontaine drained a three to make it a five point game midway through the first period.
A Tom Martin buzzer-beating three put the Leopards 19-14 up at the first break an an Hernadez free-throw at the mid-stage of the second period gave them a nine point lead before a pair of Liam Carpenter free-throws cut their lead to 31-25 at half-time.
Cummings opened the second half scoring, and Leopards’ lead ballooned to 11 with 17 third period seconds remaining when Josey hit a three before Rockets’ Sam Simon made it 53-44 going into the fourth period.
Hernandez sat down on four fouls when he appeared to be held by Simon while going for a rebound, and with Cummings limping and being called for an offensive foul as well Rowell Graham’s block being ruled as a goal-tend, Rockets chipped away at the lead.
The Big Cats were still five up when Hernandez returned to the game with 3:41 on the clock and he immediately increased that advantage with a hook shot. But a pair of Luke Nelson threes dragged Reading back into the game and Cummings could only convert one of two foul shots to leave his side up by two with 26 seconds remaining . Ryan Lohfink tied the game with a pair at the foul line with 25 seconds remaining, and Cummings saw his last second shot fall short to send the game into overtime.
Cummings opened the extra period scoring with a pair free-throws, but after Robb Parker had halved that lead at the foul line Danny Carter put Reading ahead with 3:35 on the clock and they never trailed again.
Josey levelled the score at 67 with 84 seconds remaining, but a Parker three made it a four point game, and although Cummings halved that with a drive to the basket, he then pissed a pair of free-throws and Nelson ended Leopards’ season at the foul line.