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Big Cats beat capital rivals

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Shaun Durant made a winning start to his Leopards’ career as his 15-point, 10-rebound double-double helped them to a 72-61 victory at Westminster Warriors.

Durant came off the bench after eight minutes, and scored his first points in a Leopards’ vest at the foul line to open the second period.

He also scored a pair of key free-throws down the stretch when Warriors made a late run.

The 6ft 8in centre joined the Big Cats after several spells as a starter in the BBL and looks set to form a formidable partnership inside the paint with Howard Crawford.

The 32-year-old Londoner had a four-year college career in the United States with Lindsey Wilson (NAIA), Kaskaskia Junior College and Lipscomb Uni. In his two years will Lipscomb he averaged 7.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

After a brief spell in 2007 at Spanish side Sabadell Gapsa he joined Worcester Wolves for the 2007/8 season, averaging 11.3 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.

The 2008-2009 season saw stints with Lausanne Morges Basket (Switzerland) and French side Lille Metropole Basket Clubs before he joined Leicester Riders the following year where he averaged 7.2 points and 5.4 boards per game.

The 2010-2011 campaign saw Durant at Worthing Thunder in their final BBL season where he averaged 11.7ppg and 9.4 rebounds, shooting 53.7 per cent from the floor.

His last spell in the BBL came in the 2011-2012 season at Guildford Heat where he averaged 6.4 points and 6.1 rebounds.

Leopards’ win at Westminster saw them coached by Ronnie Baker in the absence of suspended coach Robert Younblood and assistant Roger Malpass.

And England’s most-capped player recorded his second victory as acting coach – the last coming four years ago – in a good performance from the visitors, although he sat out the playing action.

The Big Cats had a balanced scoring effort, with Carl Josey, Kris Clark and Courtney Van Beest all finishing with 12 and Taner Adu adding 10.

Howard Crawford – who had a quiet night offensively with seven points and suffered with foul trouble all game – opened the scoring, but Laken Popoola replied with a trey and there was little to choose between the sides as the Big Cats went into the first break with a 13-12 lead as Josey drained a three.

Popoola drained another trey to open the second period, and Baker called a time-out with his side leading 28-24 with 5:26 on the clock.

The break worked as Josey’s assist to Durant put the visitors up by 10, and they controlled the rest of the half to lead 40-26 going into the locker room.

With Clark also hitting a three, Leopards’ lead never dipped into single figures in the third period and Van Beest – who had an excellent game – sent the Big Cats into the final break with a 55-40 lead.

Clark opened the fourth period scoring, but a 7-0 run capped by another Popoola trey saw the hosts close the gap to seven points before Josey stopped the tear, and two three-point plays from Van Beest wrapped up the win.

The game saw the midway point in Leopards’ Division One season, as they go into the second half of the campaign in fourth spot with nine wins from 13 games.

The Big Cats now have a weekend off before returning to the Brentwood Centre on Sunday February 9 to face Leicester Warriors, tip-off 4pm.

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