The Brentwood Centre crowd saw the visitors limited to just 25 second half points as the Big Cats recorded their sixth league victory of the campaign .
Ladi Brown was on fire from three-point land, draining six triples on the way to a 22-point haul, adding five rebounds, two steals and two assists .
Courtney Van Beest added ten points and six boards, with Will Ashby and Tom Martin each finishing with nine points in a balanced Leopards’ offence, while Tosin Oyelese pulling down ten rebounds . Jon Johnson led Warriors with a 16 point, ten rebound double-double with former Great Britain international Julius Joseph finishing with 12 points.
Ashby hit a trey to open the scoring before Brown took over with three straight treys to help Leopards into a 12-6 lead .
Oyelese hit four points as the Big Cats held their lead, before Brian Nguru split a pair of free-throws to send the home side into the first break with a 21-15 lead .
Scores from Van Beest and Dougie Bennett extended the Big Cats’ lead to 25-17, but the home side’s offence struggled as only Jamie Hayes troubled the scorers in the next five minutes
After former Leopard Mantis Adomaitis had tied the score at 27, Hayes hit a trey to put Leopards back in front only to see Joseph to score from the Land of Plenty but it was the Big Cats who went into the locker room with a 33-30 lead as Ashby drained a three .
Adomaitis and Brown exchanged three pointers to open the second half and Warriors briefly led 40-39 midway through the third period but an 11-2 run capped by a Nguru triple put Leopards back in charge and a Connor Stuart basket sent them into the final break with a 51-45 lead .
Martin and Brown both hit threes to extend that lead at the start of the fourth period and seven straight points from Brown effectively wrapped up the win before Martin completed the scoring with Leopards’ 11th trey of the game .
The Big Cats now have their longest ever Christmas break before returning to action with a home double header, hosting Plymouth Raiders at the Brentwood Centre on Friday January 15 (8pm) and Lancashire Spinners the following day at Harlow Leisurezone (7.30pm).
Having won all six of their games that were decided by four or less points this season, it was inevitable that the Big Cats’ luck would run out at some point as key calls went against Robert Youngblood’s side down the stretch .
After Dave Ajumobi had put them ahead by a point with 26 seconds remaining, soft foul calls on Matic Zupanc and Albert Margai saw the home side convert all foul free-throws
Leopards had one more possession with four seconds on the clock, but Zupanc’s long three-point effort missed the target as the home side took the win .
The Big Cats still go into the Christmas break with the best percentage record in Division One, with six wins from seven games.
Ajumobi had a massive night for Youngblood’s team, finishing with a 35 point, 11 rebound double-double, while Will Ashby sunk four treys on the way to a 21 point, four steal haul. Courtney Van Beest also had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds for a Leopards team who were without Lukas Winegarner, Jordon Williams and Andre Allette, while American forward Byron Richards played under five minutes due to injury .
In a game that saw an incredible 20 lead changes and ten ties, Leopards trailed 18-17 at the first break despite back-to-back scores from Van Beest to close out the period .
Ajumobi gave Leopards a one point lead with three second period minutes gone, and the visitors’ best spell of the game a Zupanc hit a trey in a 15-3 run which was capped by an Ajumobi jump shot to put the Big Cats 42-30 up with 49 seconds in the first half remaining .
Possibly the turning point in the game came during those final 49 seconds as Milton Chavis and Joshua Brown hit treys before Chavis blocked Albert Magai’s shot on the buzzer to halve the lead to 42-36 going into the locker room .
Although Ajumobi made it an eight point to open the third period, the home side controlled the early tempo and an 8-0 run saw them lead 57-53 after six minutes .
A timeout from Youngblood – who had made a 91 second cameo appearance to score four points before limping out of the action – stopped the rot but it was Ashby who took over the game with an eight-point burst in the space of 51 seconds as the hit back-to-back threes as well as grabbing an offensive board to put the Big Cats up 61-57 with 2:12 in the third period remaining .
Ashby hit another shot from the Land of Plenty to put Leopards 66-60 ahead at the final break but Chavis sparked a 10-2 start to the fourth period to put Thunder up by two before Ajumobi again restored Leopards’ lead with four straight points .
A Chavis and-one gave Thunder a six point lead with 4:32 left, but Leopards worked their way back into the game and were ahead by one on a pair of Margai free-throws with 51 seconds remaining before the some questionable calls ended the Big Cats’ perfect start to the league campaign.
2008 – Leopards lose unbeaten record
Derby Trailblazers 89 (24,52,63) Leopards 83 (21,39,58)
A disappointing weekend saw Leopards’ unbeaten record come to an end with back-to-back losses against Derby Trailblazers and Reading Rockets.
Poor second periods in both games saw Trailblazers win 89-83 in Derby on Saturday before Rockets recorded a comfortable 70-51 victory at Brentwood the following day.
With H Pervan injury, Lee McCarthy unavailable and Gareth Laws playing limited minutes due to standing in for suspended coach Jon Burnell, it was a depleted Big Cats side on show in Derby, and they started badly as the home side poured in the first 16 points.
A Laws time-out inevitably followed, and the break worked as the visitors finally got on the scoresheet as Robert Gilchrist drained a three-pointer with four minutes gone.
That launched a 9-0 run as Leopards fought their way back into the game, and six points from Carl Latham-Henry cut the deficit to seven before scores from Russell Jordan and Carl McNally ensured that the Big Cats only trailed 24-21 at the first break.
With American guard Joe Montgomery seemingly able to score at will, Leopards struggled throughout the second quarter. A lack of defensive intensity saw Montgomery take his tally to 26 in the first half as Derby built a 17-point lead before free-throws from Latham-Henry and McNally cut the deficit to 52-38 going into the locker room.
Laws’ half-time team talk clearly worked , with Gilchrist draining another three before a 7-0 run capped by a third Gilchrist trey cut Derby’s lead to six points with four third period minutes gone. Leopards were never able to get any closer than two points, following another trey from Gilchrist, but a McNally free-throw sent them into the final break still in the game at 63-57 having outscored the hosts 27-11 in the fourth quarter.
That lead was halved in the first three minutes, with Lukas Volskis draining a three, and a second long range effort from the teenage point guard meant Leopards went into the final minute still only trailing by three.
However, that was as close as they came, despite Derby hitting only scoring six of ten free-throws as Leopards were forced to foul to stop the clock.
McNally led the Big Cats’ scoring with 28 points, 18 of which came from free-throw line as Derby found the most effective way to stop him was to foul him, while Latham-Henry added 19 and Gilchrist 12.