Kris Clark led the way with a season-high 20 points as Leopards powered their way into the National Cup quarter-final with a 76-68 victory against Hemel Storm .
In front of the Brentwood crowd, Clark also dished out eight assists and pulled down five rebounds to set up a last eight tie at second division Loughborough Student Riders .
Ish Fontaine marked his first start of the season with 16 points, while Howard Crawford added ten points and eight rebounds. Hemel were led by 17 points from former Leopard Zak Wells and 16 points and seven boards from Bola Adeluola .
It was a tight game throughout, with the sides level at the first break and Leopards shaving the second period by a point before pulling away in the second half .
A slow start from Leopards saw only Courtney Van Beest trouble the scorers in the first two minutes as the visitors took a 9-2 lead, but Fontaine drained the first of four treys and five straight points from the energetic guard saw the Big Cats take their first lead of the game midway through the first period .
That proved to be only a brief lead as Hemel regained the initiative, but the sides went into the first break level as Fontaine beat the clock from outside the arc to level it at 21 apiece .
Tom Martin hit a trey to open the second period scoring for Leopards, and three straight Siman Stewart baskets kept the Big Cats ahead .
Wells levelled the score at 30 heading into the final five minutes of the half, and some good defensive play at both ends of the court saw just five points scored in the remaining time as a basket from player-coach Robert Youngblood and a Clark free-throw sent Leopards into the locker room with a 33-32 lead .
Wells opened the second half scoring, but that proved to be the visitors’ final lead of the game as big dunks from Crawford and Fontaine saw the home side take control of the game and Clark’s score at the mid-stage of the third period made it 46-37 .
A trey from Hemel’s Williamze Omopre saw Leopards’ lead cut to two points with 66 seconds remaining in the period before captain Carl Josey made it 48-44 heading into the final break .
Crawford again slammed the ball home to open the fourth period, and he made it a seven point game off Clark’s assist before Omopre’s three-point play made it a one point game heading into the final five minutes.
That was as close as the visitors came, though, as Fontaine calmed the home crowd’s nerves with a three pointer, and Youngblood, Stewart and Clark wrapped the win up at the foul line.