2008 – Leopards win thriller
Leopards 91 (20,45,63) Taunton Tigers 89 (11,38,59)
Two Lucas Volskis free-throws in the final second sealed a thrilling victory in Leopards’ opening National Trophy game of the season.
Tigers’ Joe Saunders looked to have sent the game into overtime with a lay-up less than two seconds from the horn, but the young guard inexplicably fouled Volskis. The 19-year-old point guard stepped up and coolly drained both shots from the charity stripe with 0.7 second remaining to give the Big Cats victory in their first competitive game at the Brentwood Centre for 30 months.
Such a finish had looked unlikely as the Big Cats had led the game 59-43 midway through the third period, but Tigers refused to give in and a strong finish to the third period saw them go into the final break only trailing by four. From there on, it was nip and tuck, and some good three-point shooting from the visitors saw them lead by three points going into the final two minutes of the game.
The opening quarter had seen Leopards control the game, and they reached the first break with a 20-11 lead.
Some excellent long range shooting from Gareth Laws, on his way to 22 points, saw Leopards remain in charge, and they went into the locker room with a 45-38 advantage,
The third period saw former Croatian junior international Hrvoje Pervan show why the Big Cats had pulled out the stops to sign him, and he proved deadly from long range to put them in a winning position before Tigers’ fight back saw the thrilling finish.
Pervan finished with a game-high 26 points, with England under-18 international Bradley Wilkinson adding 14. Paul Yablsley led the visitors with 19 points, with Kevin Anderson and Tim Clifford each chipping with 14. The Big Cats had gone into the game without influential point guard Carl Latham-Henry who injured his groin in practice. Volskis replaced him in the starting line-up, with assistant coach Lloyd Gardner being coaxed out of retirement to provide some back-up.
With Robert Gilchrist struggling with an Achilles injury and American forward Kevin Griffin’s signing having yet to be completed, it was a weakened Leopards team on show, so coach Burnell was pleased with the victory: “I was pleased with how we handled them physically. We started well, but we were obviously shallow in certain areas, especially at point guard. I told the players to play hard, and when things weren’t going our way, to play even harder.
“The bottom line is we won the game because we have some pretty skilful players. Gareth shot the ball in the first half to give us a comfortable lead, and H [Pervan] had a great spell in the second half to keep us in the game. I’m not going to moan about injuries, because they happen, but we obviously missed Carl – he makes us a better team and we clearly missed him. At times we struggled to get Gareth and H the ball, and that’s something we have to work on.
“Obviously we got a bit lucky with the foul at the end, but the most pleasing thing about it was that we had the resolve to hang in there when things weren’t going well.”
2014 – Leopards at the double
The Big Cats wrapped up pre-season on Saturday with a pair of contrasting victories at the Brentwood Centre. The first game proved to be high entertaining as Leopards defeated RAF Lakenheath Eagles 72-68.
American Byron Richards led the way with 19 points against a team composed entirely of his compatriots, while Albert Margai added 13 and Dave Ajumobi 12.
The Big Cats led 20-14 at the first break and 38-28 at half-time, and they looked set for a comfortable victory as they went into the final break 58-42 ahead.
The lead peaked at 20 points following an Ajumobi basket early in the fourth period but the fitness of the visitors showed down the stretch as they narrowed the gap before a three-point play from Courtney Van Beest sealed the win .
After a two hour break while Richards and seven-foot centre Lawrence Brown coached 25 youngsters, the Big Cats returned to the court and handed out a 92-39 parting to Dagenham Dragons.
The home side never looked back after a 10-0 side, and with Richards hitting a pair of triples in the first five minutes, Leopards blew the London League side away with a 29-6 first period. That lead grew to 46-20 at half-time despite the Big Cats’ bench all seeing plenty of court time and the win was wrapped up with a 25-9 third period and 21-10 fourth quarter.
Richards completed a busy day with a 20 point haul, with Jordan Williams adding 12 points and Will Ashby 11 as all 12 Leopards got on the scoresheet. Swedish big man Lukas Winegarner impressed in both games with the Big Cats considering signing the former American college player.
2015 – Leopards snatch defeat from the jaws of victory
Leopards managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as they went down 84-80 at Kent Crusaders, on Sunday. Steve Ogunjimi’s team led by eight with two minutes to go but allowed the home side to score 13 unanswered and even when they had the ball with five seconds remaining and a chance to either tie or win the game, they threw it out of bounds and then allowed Jack Burnell to sink a three to seal Crusaders’ win.
In a game played at Barking Abbey, formally the Big Cats’ alternative home venue, the visitors blew a double-digit lead for the second Sunday running but this time they were unable to hold on as the young Crusaders team took the victory.
Albert Margai led Leopards with 18 points and four assists, with Ladi Brown adding 14 and Will Ashby 13. Burnell – son of former Leopards’ coach Jon – hit six of his ten three-point attempts on the way to a game-high 23 points in just 22 minutes of action.
Justin Hitchman – who hit seven of his eight free-throws – split a pair at the charity stripe to open the scoring and the visitors went to the foul line repeatedly in the early stages of the game before a Brown trey put then 16-6 ahead with six minutes gone.
But in common with the previous week’s win at Southwark Leopards failed to keep up their intensity and allowed their opponents back into the game with a pair of Burnell treys cutting the lead to 34-37 with five minutes of the half remaining. An and-one from Frederico Tavares pushed the lead back out to 41-27 before another Burnell three sparked a 13-4 finish to the quarter saw Crusaders trim Leopards’ lead to 45-40 at half-time.
Treys from RJ Etyle-Rock and Josh Foulds saw Crusaders lead 52-49 at the mid-stage of the third period before Tom Martin sparked a 12-6 finish to the quarter, with Van Beest draining a trey as Leopards led 62-58 at the final break.
Crusaders again open a period with a 6-0 run but with Ashy hitting the from the Land of Plenty, a 9-0 run capped by a pair of Margai baskets looked to have put the visitors back in control with a 74-88 lead with four minutes remaining.
But that proved to be as good as it got for the visitors, and despite a miracle Tosin Oyelese trey which beat the shot clock followed by a put-back from the same player, Eytle-Rock tied the game at 79 heading into the final 30 seconds.
An offensive foul call on Oyelese saw Crusaders have the ball with 17 seconds on the clock, but after an initial shot was blocked, they managed to tap the ball out to Dean Wanliss to score with 4.2 seconds on the clock.
With one last attempt to at least tie the game, Leopards managed to mess up the inbound, with the ball arriving in Burnell’s hands who sunk a trey.
The home side picked up a technical foul as one of their bench players came onto the court, but although Ashby hit the free-throws it was too late for the visitors.
Watford Royals 87
Adidas Greater London Leopards 121
Budweiser British Basketball League
@ Watford Leisure Centre