The Big Cats collected their fourth piece of silverware in 13 months with a thrilling 99-91 National trophy victory against Tees Valley Mohawks on Saturday.
Coach Robert Youngblood poured in nine points in the extra period as he scored the first five points of overtime and never looked back to win the one piece of silverware which eluded them last season.
Greg Hernandez won the MVP award with 26 points and 12 rebounds along with two steals and as many assists as he played all but 38 seconds of the 45 minutes. .
But the unsung hero was probably Carl Josey who finished with eight points and nine boards, but locked down David Hanson who had poured in 27 first half points, and limited the talented British youngster to just three points in the second half and overtime combined.
The win was achieved despite losing captain Taner Adu with an ankle injury midway through the fourth period, with the former England international finishing with 25 points and two assists. Simon Cummings had 23 points, seven boards and six assists, while player-coach had a season-high 15 point, 12 rebound double-double in 35:34 of playing time .
Hansen opened the scoring, only for Cummings to reply, and Hernandez gave Leopards their first lead at 8-6 with three minutes gone. An Adu three at the five minute mark capped a 9-2 run to put Leopards 15-8 ahead and Leopards captain put his side 19-10 with 3:20 remaining in the first period before Mohawks big men Jamie Kohn and Lee McLaughlin scored five straight points to cut Leopards’ lead to 19-15 at the first break.
The second period belonged to Hansen as he poured in 20 points including six treys to put his side in the driving seat. The Big Cats still led by three win as many minutes left in the half after a Youngblood basket but Mohawks replied with a 13-2 run before Adu scored shortly before the buzzer to cut the deficit to 51-42 going into the locker room.
Cummings opened the second half scoring to launch an 8-0 run which saw the Big Cats pull within a point before Hansen drained from downtown for his only field goal after half-time. A pair of three-point plays from Cummings gave Leopards their first lead of the second half with three minutes gone but there was little to choose between the teams in the rest of the period before Tom Martin sent Leopards into the fourth period with a 70-68.
Adu hit a single free-throw to open the fourth quarter before Rowell Graham made it a five point game DJ Glavin hit a long two to put Mohawks back in the lead with six minutes of regulation time remaining and it took until 40 seconds from the end of the fourth period before an and-one from Hernandez put the Big Cats back into the lead at 84-83.
Kohn replied with a three point play of his own to put Mohawks up by two before Hansen fouled Cummings with 25 seconds left, and the American guard coolly drained bother shots at the charity stripe to level things. Kohn missed a shot with eight seconds on the clock and Youngblood grabbed the rebound to set Hernandez up for an attempted buzzer-beater, but it rimmed out and the game went to an extra period.
Overtime belonged to Leopards even without the injured Adu as Youngblood showed that even as he approached his 43rd birthday he can still take over a game. The Leopards’ coach hit the first two baskets of the additional period, and although Cummings missed a pair at the foul line, Josey made it a five point game with a single free-throw.
Jorge Ebanks hit a three to cut the lead to 91-89 with 2:09 on the clock before Youngblood doubled the advantage after Josey had pulled down a rebound. Youngblood and Cummings both split pairs of free-throws to make it a six point game with 22 seconds remaining before the same pair both hit two foul shots to wrap things up and let the celebrations start..
Hansen led the Mohawks with 31 points, seven boards and three assists while Glavin added 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
Leopards: G Hernandez (26), T Adu (25), S Cummings (23), R Youngblood (15), C Josey (6), R Graham (2), T Martin (2), I Fontaine, D Dunscombe, L Brown (DNP), D Camile (DNP), D Davis (DNP)
2013 – Trophy joy for Blood
Leopards’ coach Robert Youngblood couldn’t hide his joy after the Big Cats won the National Trophy with an overtime victory against Tees Valley Mohawks
“It was a fantastic final, and a real up and down game” he said. In the first quarter we came out very strong playing good defence and got a lead but they were on fire in the second quarter, hitting threes from everywhere. We took the players in at half-time and got them composed and told them we had to play better defence. I put Carl Josey on Hansen and he really locked him up, and restricted him to four points in the second half and overtime
“We got together and started playing as a team and outscored them by 13 points in the third period. The fourth period was back and forth, but we lost Taner with four minutes to go and everyone was worried, but I told Taner we’d winner it for him.
“Greg could have given us victory in regulation, but we were great in overtime and the old man [himself] stepped up and scored nine points in overtime. It means the world to me, coming back to coach at the first club I played for in this country and giving the fans the one trophy they didn’t wish last season. It was also great to give the Trophy to the club owners as they gave me my first chance at coaching.”
Roger praises Big Cats
Leopards’ assistant coach Roger Malpass had praise for the Big Cats after Saturday’s thrilling 99-91 victory against Tees Valley Mohawks saw them win the National Trophy.
“I think it was an extremely close game and hard fought one between two good team. I always thought we had the edge and had sufficient strength to control the game, maybe we didn’t take advantage of that enough..
“Some fantastic defence by Carl Josey locking down their main scorers was a key factor and we also started to finish around the basket. And then in overtime Robert Youngblood rolled back the years to finish with 15 points and 12 rebounds. “The atmosphere was fantastic and I was really pleased for the organisation. We had people from all over the place, from Leicester and from Milton Keynes and it was good to hear them supporting us.”
Malpass, who is one of the former MK Lions contingent at the Big Cats, believes that Youngblood still has plenty to offer the Big Cats as a player: “He could play a lot longer, maybe two more years – it depends whether he wants to keep playing.”
Losing coach Steve Butler gave credit to their opponents and both sets of fans: “I’m so proud of the guys . It’s very disappointing to lose in overtime when we had a shot at the buzzer at normal time to win the game, but the way the guys gave everything out on the court tonight was fantastic . Credit to [Robert] Youngblood and his team for making the final such a fantastic game.
“Both set of supporters were amazing, loud and really created a great atmosphere of which the players stepped up to . We will now concentrate on our league form and try to get back to winning ways and try to push for home court advantage in the Playoffs because our fans deserve days out like this again.”
Trophy delight for Taner, Greg and Carl
Leopards’ captain Taner Adu was delighted after watching the Big Cats win the National Trophy on Saturday. Adu had to leave the game with a foot injury midway through the fourth period, but was happy to win his fourth piece of EBL silverware:
“The final was really good . It was up and down game, we both had our runs. When I went out injured I though the guys really pulled together and got the win. It’s a big win for the club, getting the Trophy for the first time, and for me as well as I’ve now the set . it’s a great feeling.
“Hopefully next year we can win some more silverware. I feel confident that when we get to the play-offs we’ll win it, it’s a new season and we want to win more.”
Forward Greg Hernandez was also thrilled to win the competition: It was a great game and a great atmosphere. At the end of the day we fought hard for 45 minutes. It wasn’t just one person – it was everyone on the roster. Carl’s defence in the second half was amazing. Hansen hit 27 in the first half and he was unconscious, but Carl completely locked him down after half-time.”.
Hernandez is keen to add more silverware with the Big Cats: “I definitely fancy winning another trophy, hopefully we can go into the play-offs strongly and take that one.”
The American big man was clearly delighted to win the MVP award: “It means a lot to me, I couldn’t have done it without my team-mates and the whole organization and it’s very humbling to get an award like that.”
Josey was modest about his defence on David Hansen which limited the British guard to four points after a 27 point first half: “The whole strategy wasn’t for me to guard him, but at half-time when he had 27 points I took it upon myself to take him out of the game and let everyone else do the scoring.”
“I thought it was a gusty effort from everyone on the team. To go down at half-time and then come out and step up. We took it bit by bit, we came out and worked together to close the win in overtime. We showed some real resilience
It’s fantastic feeling after last season at the Lions. It was a good opportunity but we didn’t win anything and I wanted to win something this year .It’s fantastic for the organization. I’m looking to get the play-offs won and close out a good season.”