In front of a big crowd at Southend, Robert Youngblood’s team blew the visitors away with a dominant third period as they picked up their fifth win in six league games, and their ninth in the last ten games .
Ish Fontaine drained four three-pointers on his way to a game-high 18 points, adding six rebounds . Howard Crawford was limited to 20 minutes of action due to foul trouble, but finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, while Kris Clark added 14 points and nine assists and Carl Josey returned from injury to chip in with 13 points, five boards and four assists .
Simon Kearney and Fontaine exchanged treys to open the game, and in a high-scoring start, Clark and Fontaine scored all 13 of Leopards’ points in the opening four minutes as the home side opened a 13-10 lead
Josey gave Leopards a late lead in the period before a pair of Clark free-throws sent the home side into the first break with a 23-21 lead .
Crawford was forced to sit down two minutes from the end of the first period after collecting his second foul, with Youngblood bringing himself into the action, and the player- coach opened the second period scoring .
It proved to be a low scoring stanza, Leopards shading it 11-10, with Youngblood scoring six of the points, and they went into the locker room leading 34-31 as Courtney Van Beest sunk a buzzer-beater .
Crawford’s return to the action saw Leopards lock the visitors down defensively, and he scored the first six points of the second half, before seven straight Fontaine points saw him cap a 13-2 run to put the Big Cats 47-44 ahead with six minutes gone .
Walid Mumuni broke the run, but back-to-back scored from Crawford – including a dunk – followed by a Clark trey saw the Big Cats lead balloon to 54-35 .
Fontaine sunk his fourth trey of the game to give Leopards a 57-41 lead at the final break and although Dru Spinks hit a pair at the line to open the fourth period, Leopards then went on a 13-0 run which effectively sealed the win .
Van Beest – who finished with eight points and nine rebounds and was key in second half – launched the tear with a jump shot on his way to six points in the run before Clark wrapped it up at the line to give Leopards their biggest lead of the night at 72-45.
Tom Adorian broke the run, but it was Leopards who had the final say as a pair of free-throws from Crawford saw the Big Cats continue their remarkable record against Storm with a 19th straight win.
Bode Adeluloa led Storm with 17 points on six-from-17 shooting, while former Leopard was the only other Hemel player in double figures with 12 points.
“After what has been a highly emotional week for us as a club, it is great to finally get our first league win of the season” said Baker .
“We started fantastically well in this one, even better than we have been doing in recent games which is a credit to guys. We were relentless at both ends .
“As the game went on we natural took our foot of the gas and even though Liverpool have had some issues over the last couple of days they showed they can still punish teams .
“It was good to see us maintain a strong advantage in the game and we will be looking to build on this as we take on Hoods next weekend”
Forward James Cummings was also pleased with the victory: “It feels good to finally get a well deserved win
“It’s exciting when we play our style of basketball still things we need to work on but step by step we getting there!”
Division One’s top scorer Hafeez Abdul came off the bench, but again led the Leopards with 27 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while Ray Akpofure had a massive 18 point, 14 rebound double-double . Jerrelle Okoro added 14 points, ten boards and four assists, while Cummings had 12 points and six rebounds.
Reiss Hogarth led the visitors with 24 points, six assists and four rebounds, while Uche Umweke added 16 points and seven boards . Tyme Regent-Bascombe finished with a 14 point, 11 rebound double-double, with Kaphel Ulett-Waul adding 11 points, six boards and four assists for a Liverpool side who only used six players after a midweek exodus .
Captain Chuck Duru and Okoro both hit treys to open the game, and the home side blitzed a Liverpool side who had seen three players depart during the week .
Akpofure hit five straight points and Okoro drained a triple as Leopards rushed into a 17-4 lead.
With the game effectively won, the rest of the action proved to be something of an anti climax as Leopards took their foot off the gas, but the win should prove to be a boost for the Big Cats as they travel to Nottingham Hoods on Saturday.
The lead was extended by two to 64-33 at half-time but a turgid third period saw the home side outscored 22-12 and Liverpool shaded the final stanza 22-21 .