It was the Howard Crawford show for the depleted Leopards as the American big man led the way with 37 points and 12 rebounds in a dominant performance .
Incredibly he scored all of Leopards’ 14 points in the first period as the Big Cats came from behind to reach the semi-final of the competition they won in 2006 and 2012 .
The Big Cats were without point guards Kris Clark who was ineligible under National Cup rules and Ronnie Baker who dislocated his shoulder in Friday’s win against Newham .
Sam Iwueke had the best game of his Leopards’ career to finish with 19 points, four boards, two assists and as many steals.
It was Leopards’ defence in the final period that proved to be the difference between the teams as player-coach Robert Youngblood brought himself into the game and the hosts were limited to ten points in the last 11 minutes .
The home side were led by Leicester Riders’ pair Connor Washington who finished with 22 points, nine boards, three steals and three assists, and former Leopards’ junior Levi Noel who had 17 points .
Back-to-back Crawford baskets gave Leopards an early lead, but without a recognised point guard the Big Cats struggled to get the ball up the court and an 11-2 run from the hosts helped them lead 24-14 at the first break .
Carl Josey again took the deficit down to a point with two first half minutes remaining but that was as close as the visitors came, with Loughborough taking a 41-37 lead into the locker room as Webster dunked off Noel’s assist .
Crawford – who else – opened the second half scoring, and a pair of Siman Stewart freet-throws cut the deficit to 45-43 with 6:44 on the clock before Iwueke made it a one point game with three third period minutes remaining .
Youngblood brought himself into the game with 2:20 remaining in the period, and was immediately called for an unsportsmanlike foul call on the first defensive possession, and then picked up a technical foul after disputing the decision.
Ish Fontaine was also called for a T after being fouled as he drove down the win, and the free-throws helped the home side take a 63-55 lead into the final break.
Crawford hit the first five Leopards’ points of the final stanza before the visitors stepped up their defence and held the home side scoreless for four minutes
It was a 14-0 run capped by Tom Martin that effectively sealed the win for Leopards. Iwueke tied the game at with 7:39 on the clock, though he missed the and-one opportunity, before a pair of Crawford scores gave the visitors their first lead since the opening period.
Youngblood made it 73-67 with a put-back, and the visitors never trailed again, and Iwueke hit three of four foul shots down the stretch to seal the win.
2007 – Leopards lose Mildenhall farce
USAF Mildenhall Marauders 82 (34) Leopards 77 (33)
Leopards’ five-game winning run came to an end with an 82-77 loss at USAF Mildenhall Marauders on Saturday.
In a game played in farcical conditions, Leopards were without starters Carl Latham-Henry and Lee McCarthy through injury, and Jon Burnell used the opportunity to give Leopards’ bench players plenty of court time.
Stix Bright and Garth Laws led the Big Cats’ scoring with 20 apiece, and in a fragmented game it was captain Sam Salter who drained a three on the half-time buzzer to send the Big Cats in the locker room trailing 34-33.
The home side opened a ten point lead midway through the second half, and looked to be heading to victory. However a late comeback saw a Laws three-pointer cut the deficit to one with 36 seconds remaining.
With the Big Cats forced to foul to stop the shot clock, however, Mildenhall sealed the win from the foul line.