Coach Robert Youngblood’s decision to go small in the final quarter paid dividends as smothering defence and the ability to get to foul line on the fast-break proved too much for the home side .
The win means that a victory against Newham Neptunes at Harlow Leisure Zone next Saturday will give Leopards top spot in the south group and home quarter-final against Leicester Warriors as well as home-court advantage in the last four if they progress .
It was Leopards 21st straight victory against the Hemel franchise which began life at West Herts Warriors.
Dave Ajumobi got his mojo back at the foul line to lead the Big Cats with a season-high 28 points, while Courtney Van Beest kept Youngblood’s side in the game during the second period to finish with 16 points . Matic Zupanc, who along with Albert Margai and Ronnie Baker proved to be a deadly three giurd combination in the final stanza, finished with 13 points, while Lukas Winegarner and Will Ashby added nine apiece .
Big man Tom Adorian led the home side with 24 points, while former Leopards’ captain Carl Josey added 13 points and Walid Mumuni 12.
Lawrence Brown opened the scoring with a spin move, but the Leopards’ big-man quickly picked a pair of fouls as Adorian converted a pair of and-ones, and a 8-0 run put the home side 10-4 ahead .
Treys from Ashby and Ajmobi brought Leopards level and although Matic Supanc also hit from downtown, poor boxing out allowed the home side to lead by as many as seven by Van Beest beat the buzzer with a 12 foot jump shot to cut the deficit to 25-20 at the first break .
Coach Youngblood somehow managed to pick up a technical foul at the end of the first period, but when play resumed Hemel missed the free throw, and that seemed to spark Leopards into life as Van Beest scored a lay-up, Ashby scored with a drive after grabbing a rebound and Ajumobi put the Big Cats up by one off a Zupanc lay-up after four minutes .
But the hosts hit back with a 7-0 run to take control again before Ashby broke the run, and scores from Van Beest and Margai following some great defence cut the home side’s lead to 45-42 at half-time .
Zupanc opened the fourth period scoring with a drive to the basket and Ajumobi tied things with a single free-throw.
The introduction of Baker proved to be the turning point he quickly scored o put Leopards up by four, and after Storm had been called for a five second violation Ajumobi made it an eight point game at the mid-stage of the quarter .
Scores from Ajumobi, Van Beest and Baker completed a 12-0 run and the lead peaked at 20 before Youngblood ran his bench in the closing stages to wrap up the win.
2008 – Reading Rockets 78 London Leopards 53
National Trophy Southern Group @ Rivermead Leisure Centre